What is a Service Level Agreement?
An SLA (service level agreement) is an agreement of services in the form of a contract arranged between the TPM provider and the customer.
A service level agreement is essentially the details of what is included in your service contract. It should provide you with the particulars of the different layers of support and outline expectations and guarantees.
What’s Included in an SLA?
Let’s break it down… SLAs generally include several different aspects of your hardware support contract.
Response Times & Coverage Windows
SLAs should describe general response times to the initial service inquiries and usually include a guaranteed response window. For instance, we may guarantee a 4-hour response time but we typically respond within minutes. It’s important that we cover both the guarantee and the typical expectation especially if the two are different.
Coverage windows refer to the window of time when service will be provided. This would include diagnosis and repair. General coverage windows include the 9x5xNBD, which stands for 9 hours a day (8am-5pm), 5 days a week (usually M-F), and next business day for parts shipping and potentially for on-site engineering support; and the 7x24x4 which stands for 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and 4… well, we have a lot to say about what that the 4 could mean.
When we talk through service level agreements with our clients, we break down what each of those numbers mean and often find that the client has needs that might not perfectly fit either of those coverage windows. That’s no problem though because we can set up a custom SLA to match their needs.
Parts Stocking & Shipping
We can’t really talk about coverage windows without taking into account the parts stocking strategy. As with many elements of an SLA, coverage windows, parts stocking and on-site response times are inseparably linked.
When outlining the parts aspect of the service, we ask questions like what parts are going to be stocked locally, at the customer facility or not? If any parts are not stocked, what is the expectation for delivery? We like to go even further into specific detail in our SLAs. For example, let’s say we’ve agreed on “next business day” parts delivery in your SLA and we get a ticket request at 1pm and it’s not something simple. We have to dive in to find the problem and end up diagnosing at 6pm, we are not going to be able to get the parts shipped out that day because it’s past the shipping deadline. These nuances are important to talk about because they impact how quickly service will be delivered.
The next layer would be on-site support. If your SLA offers on-site support, you need to consider more than just the expected on-site response time. Parts availability should be part of the conversation because it doesn’t matter how quickly an engineer can get there—if the parts aren’t there, it won’t make any difference.
We like to lay out the expectation for on-site engineering scheduling based on if parts are stocked on site or locally and if parts aren’t there, it’s based on when parts arrive. The “when parts arrive” part is usually clarified in the parts stocking/shipping part of an SLA. Once the part is on location, we can set a clear expectation of how quickly we’ll schedule somebody to be on site.
A common line item in many SLAs is Defective Media Retention or DMR in the TPM space. For example, when we replace a hard drive—many companies want those hard drives to remain at the facility just in case there’s still data present on them. They want to be able to wipe the drives of data or destroy them.
Rerouting of automated alerts that come from certain devices is another standard part of many SLAs. This just allows the auto generated notifications and alerts to be sent directly to our helpdesk. Most people prefer that the helpdesk manage those for them.
Purpose of an SLA
So what’s the point of an SLA?
The purpose of a service level agreement is to set expectations with contractual obligations. That’s a fancy way of saying it helps clients to know what to expect and providers to know what they have to deliver. SLAs help clients understand what we’re selling as part of our service and it provides our team members with a clear picture of what the service needs to look like.
Setting the parameters of expectations with SLAs helps us do a better job. It allows us to measure whether we are meeting expectations and acts as an internal guide for the team.
What an SLA should be
Drilling down and explaining all the particulars of what makes up an SLA is not common practice. Often there is a pretty big layer of ambiguity in the conversation and disclaimers of “best effort” or “within reason” are relied upon in the event that a customer feels that expectations are not being met. When you press for more detailed information about your SLA, you may find that there is likely a difference between what you thought you were getting and what it actually will look like when $&!# hits the fan.
That’s why at M Global, we are so committed to spelling out every detail. Owner and CEO Steve Oono talks about why this is so important to him in Setting Client Expectations. If you'd like to learn more, check out our SLAs or give us a call!