The success or failure of service level agreements depends on clear language and establishing reasonable expectations and effective metrics. Putting together the right SLA is obviously in the best interests of the both the service provider and the customer, whether it deals with a basic contract between an ISP and a homeowner, or some other service provider not even in the IT sector. There are simple steps to ensure that service level agreements best practices are followed, but beyond those basics it is important to get the legal advice of an attorney who is an expert is the sector whether it be technology law or any other practice, and in the client’s business model to ensure that needs are met and minimize risk.
Both the customer and the service provider should take it as their responsibility to ensure that they implement best practices in the SLA during their communication and in the final document, whether it is legally binding or not – as in the case of internal OLAs. First, it is important to clearly state the services to be rendered, in terms of type, frequency, purpose, quality, and timeframe. This language is important as it establishes an understanding of exactly what will be measured by the SLA. Then, explicitly state what metrics will be used to measure that service. For example, a network service provider may be bound to keep the system and all of its nodes available during business hours. In that case, does a computer that boots up and has access to the internet and intra-net signify compliance or are the network’s speed and performance as well as the efficient functioning of remote databases also necessary? Similarly, when outages in service occur, whether the SLA is technology law-based or not, what is an acceptable recovery time?
These measurement questions in service level agreements should also discuss the measurement period, how performance will be reported, response channels, and performance percentages. The last components to be discussed in an SLA should be whether or not service level targets will change over time and whether there will be possible credits for the customer based on failures and bonuses to the provider based on exceptional performance levels. These are often the details that set the tone of the final deal, because they fine-tune the exact position each party wants to be in after the initial points of the agreement are hammered out.
If both the provider and customer begin negotiations with a clear set of priorities based on these essential elements of service level agreements, and they work in good faith to implement best practices for a mutually beneficial deal, then risk management and legal assistance becomes far less likely, which is the ultimate goal in most cases.