A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a contract between your organisation and your service desk provider. But many providers seem to forget that SLAs are not a one-size-fits-all template. As they’re part of the service management I believe they should therefore be focussed on the customer, and that means a unique SLA for every client.
The importance of customer focussed Service Level Agreements (SLA)
What makes a good IT service provider? What should you look for in a SLA when signing up with a new IT service desk provider?
A SLA is designed to help manage end user expectations so it should contain information such as the type and quality of services provided by the service desk, the level of services (such as response times), and the methods used for measuring and reporting that targets have been met.
The SLA should first set out how users can contact the service desk, hours of operation, and what the process will be. This includes how long to expect a call to be answered, what information will be requested and what happens next.
Prioritising service, users and tickets
When users contact the service desk a priority will be assigned to the ticket. The SLA should include guidelines of how to prioritise an issue, for example a priority 1 ticket might be described as ‘a serious problem affecting a large number of staff requiring immediate attention’, whereas a priority 4 could be ‘a non-urgent request that doesn’t prevent a user from working’. The service provider should work with your organisation to define these priorities in a way that your users can understand and are aligned with business objectives.
You should also agree with the service desk provider how they will prioritise their individual services. For example, are IT support tickets more important than a telephony service provided to your organisation? Together you need to work out what type of service is more important and therefore should be prioritised over others. This will be unique to your organisation and therefore expect to have input in this process.
Other factors to expect in an SLA include how different users are prioritised. If the service desk provides support for your customers they’re likely to have a higher priority over many internal users, however there may be key customers that need a higher priority than others. Similarly, internally you may have key users or departments that need to be prioritised over others. How they are all prioritised will depend on business objectives, company structure and other variables which is why SLAs must be unique to your organisation.
The SLA will then detail all the services the IT company has been contracted to provide and the SLA targets. These will include a response time and a resolution time for IT support problems, and a target time for other requests such as new user account set ups.
Target times (including response and resolution) will also reflect the priority assigned to a ticket, so a Priority 1 IT support ticket might have a target fix time of 1 hour, while a Priority 4 could be 1 working week. The SLA will also provide details of how tickets are escalated. So if your organisation is outsourcing 1st line tickets only, if a ticket cannot be resolved and needs to be escalated to 2nd line this process will be outlined in the SLA.
The SLA will also set out the service provider’s responsibilities and your organisation’s responsibilities – for example some 3rd party applications might be supported by the vendor, rather than the outsourced service desk.
As you can see, there are many different factors that can affect the service your organisation receives from a service desk provider, so make sure they’re reflected in the SLA! If an IT service provider doesn’t invest the time in discovering how their services will impact your organisation and provides you with a one-size-fits-all SLA you might want to talk to a different provider. When it comes to managing expectations, the first step should be aligning the SLA with your organisation’s business objectives.
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