As a vendor of Unified IT Systems Management software, uptime software offers the ability to create and manage Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for mission-critical services across an enterprise (IT SLA Management Software). This is an excellent process and tool for helping customers and service providers improve communications, manage expectations, clarify responsibilities and build the foundation for a long-term win-win relationship.
Having spoken and worked with numerous organizations on establishing SLAs, some of the key steps involved in establishing a successful SLA are often glossed over or completely missed altogether. Very often service providers fall into the fatal trap of thinking that once they have procured an SLA management solution, all they have to do is implement it and then throw SLA reports “over the wall” to their customers. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is clear goal setting, open communication and getting buy-in from two parties in the development stages of an SLA that will ultimately determine its success or failure.
Here are 7 critical steps to include in your SLA development process that will ensure you embark on your journey down the road to success:
- Document Needs, Priorities and Capabilities
- Communicate to Ensure Agreement about the Agreement
- Establish and Enforce Ground Rules for Working Together
- Develop and Record the Agreement
- Meet, Discuss and Generate a Buy-In
- Publish a List of Pre-Implementation Tasks before your SLA goes Live
- Manage and Maintain your New Agreement
Customers and service providers both need to start by gathering information so that each party has a solid base from which to negotiate. Before a customer asks for a commitment from their service provider, they should carefully review and clarify in writing their service needs and priorities. In addition, before making any sort of commitment to a customer, a service provider should first examine their service history and determine the level of service they can realistically provide. The easiest way to do this is to utilize SLA monitoring and reporting software such as up.time, which not only allows you to measure SLA in production, but also allows you to create an SLA test and then back-test it to determine how well your IT group would have fared in delivering on it. In addition, service providers should assess current customer satisfaction in order to clearly understand customer concerns and establish a clean baseline for assessing service improvement.
This may seem obvious, but all too often, open and clear communication is lacking during the initial stage of the SLA development. Customers and service providers often have different views about the role and purpose of the SLA and what it can realistically accomplish. Both sets of views may be valid, yet different enough to cause a breakdown in SLA negotiations. Before any SLA development work is done, it is critical that both parties sit down face-to-face (please avoid email) and hold an open and honest discussion to ensure both parties have a basic level of agreement about the agreement. Any further SLA effort is likely to prove futile if this step is skipped.
This is another important but often overlooked step, where the SLA developers who are assigned to negotiate the SLA need to focus not on the agreement itself, but on the process by which both parties will work together to create the agreement. Topics of discussion should include the division of responsibility during SLA development, dates, scheduling constraints, and finally concerns about potential roadblocks. In addition, SLA developers should be candid in discussing their communication styles and documentation preferences. The benefit of this step is to identify upfront any potential conflicts or differences, so both parties are in a strong position to mitigate them during the process.
In this step, the customer and service provider create a structure for the SLA document. A discussion, a debate and a negotiation takes place in order to reach an agreement about the content of the agreement. This is not the entire SLA development process, but certainly a critical step to complete in order to move forward. The length of time it takes to create a draft agreement document will vary depending on the SLA developers’ experience with SLAs, their familiarity with the key services involved, the demands of their other day-to-day responsibilities (these days, this is a second or third job for most) and frankly, the state of current relations between the customer and the service provider.
Once an SLA draft agreement has been created, both parties need to have the opportunity to review the draft, ask questions and offer suggestions to improve the agreement by ensuring it meets the mutual goals of both parties. Using this feedback, the SLA developers’ can then conduct further negotiations, gain the necessary approval and buy-in of both parties, and then finalize the SLA Agreement. To make such meetings more open and cordial, bringing coffee and donuts surely helps.
This step entails the identification and completion of tasks that must precede the implementation of an SLA. Such activities should include the development of SLA tracking mechanisms; establish reporting processes and training, deciding on how to communicate expectations to staff and lastly, identifying the roles for each individual.
Once your SLA is deployed it needs to be managed. If it is not measured or managed on a continuous basis then ultimately, all the efforts of both parties will have been wasted. This is a very critical step in your new SLA lifecycle. Management responsibilities should include providing a point of contact for problems related to the agreement (your SLA Referee), maintaining ongoing contact with the other party (pre-scheduled meetings), conducting service reviews, coordinating and implementing modifications to the SLA, and assessing and reporting on how both parties can further enhance their working relationship.
SLAs are very powerful business tools that will improve customer relationships and deliver significant ROI for your organization. Their success will also do wonders for your own career-so do it right. Think BIG and be BOLD!
To learn more about SLAs:
Watch our webinar » Creating IT SLAs: How to Remove the Complexity and Get Started
Read our white paper » The SLA Way to IT Success – Help IT Build Confidence and Credibility