The importance of Service Level Agreements

Most IT operations shops establish some sort of service level agreement (SLA) with their users and customers. To my mind, these are equal parts commitment and expectation management. To a commercial vendor, the former is usually the focus, whereas the latter is typically the focus for an in-house vendor.

Let’s use onsite support as an example. Our fictional customer has an SLA of three business days for standard support, five business days for larger requests, and ten business days for requests that would require a resource for an entire day or more.

Two days before a major conference, our customer sends in an urgent, high-priority, request for someone to be there to help them with the technical side of things. This request can be rejected out of hand, with reference to the SLA, Such a rejection would, in essence, echo the following age-old mantra:

A lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine

Even though we would be well within our rights to reject the request, I would advocate seeing if we are able to attend. If we do so, we should make it clear that we are doing it because we are able to do so, not because of any SLA-based obligation.

Let’s again consider our fictional customer. They have a three business day SLA for ordinary user account creation, and a ten business day SLA for admin account creation. How should you deal with it when they perennially fail to submit such requests in a timely fashion?

Again, a correct and proper answer is that their failure to plan does not constitute an emergency. Having done so, we should nevertheless attempt to at least get the ordinary user account created as soon as we can.

SLAs are important tools for planning on the part of vendors and customers alike. For vendors, delivering better than agreed – when possible – helps their image with the customer. While SLAs are outer boundaries, there is no rule that says you can’t deliver more quickly.

We should do anything we can do to reduce WIP. After all; it’s not only good for the customer, it’s good for us, too!

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