What to Expect in a Service Level Agreement

So, you’ve decided to engage a managed IT services provider (MSP). One of the first steps involved in establishing your relationship is creating the Service Level Agreement (SLA)This contract establishes a set of deliverables that your MSP has agreed to provide to you. You might have already understood what an SLA is, but there’s more than just understanding the definition. What should you expect to be outlined? How detailed should it be? What are best practices for response times and more when using an MSP? Below, we will explain the answers to these questions, so you can feel confident when establishing an SLA with your new MSP.  

What Should a Service Level Agreement Contain? 

The important aspect to be outlined in an SLA is how the problem/resolution process works. There are different methods to this depending on the MSP. Some may have tiers of IT professionals to escalate your issue depending on how complicated it is. Others may have a sort of “triage” solution before getting you to the specific individual that can solve your issue. No matter the method, this should be clearly explained in a way that you understand, so that when that first issue arises, there is no question on how to contact your MSP to resolve it.

In addition to outlining the resolution process overall, it should be explained in detail how different levels of priority issues get resolved, from the highest priority and most complicated issues to more simple ones. If your future MSP claims that 90% of issues are resolved on first call, that’s great, but you want to know how they handle that more complicated 10% as well. That last 10% of issues that aren’t resolved on your first point of contact are typically the ones that will cost your business a lot of downtime. The SLA should establish a timeframe for resolving specific situations given the different levels of complexity that may occur. A password reset will likely have a much shorter resolution time than if some of your hardware goes down, but no matter the issue, it’s important to know how many hours it may take to solve the problem. 

Good MSPs will have a high level of detail in their SLA, and track performance metrics so that they can both improve their processes and let you know what kind of timeframe to expect based on real data. For example, they should have an average time for their help desk answering the phone, and using the metrics mentioned, an average time for a problem to be resolved, as well as overall customer satisfaction. 

Best Practices, Decision Factors, and More 

While your MSP should clearly outline how they will help you in the service level agreement, there are some decisions that are up to your organization.

Similar to solutions like disaster recovery and business continuity, if you want faster uptime defined in your SLA, this will cost you more money. Your organization must find a happy medium between service level and budget. And similarly to DR and backup as well, you must consider what kind of downtime you can tolerate. The kinds of issues your MSP will be resolving will cost productivity, and therefore profit. If your business needs someone available 24×7, make sure this is outlined in the SLA. Depending on your industry, you may only need 9 to 5 support. However, with certain industries like healthcare and banking, round-the clock assistance is necessary to ensure that technology problems do not affect how you are serving your customers.

The location of your business and how fast you need on-site support is another aspect to consider that will affect your cost and service level. Some organizations prefer to choose an MSP local to them so that they know someone can be on-site quickly if an issue arises. For other organizations, however, this is not as important. Some organizations may prefer to outsource to offshore resources, but company culture and downtime tolerance should be considered when choosing this option, as it may not work for every organization. No matter the situation, make sure you find an MSP that meets your needs, and then defines them within the SLA.

As mentioned before, an important MSP best practice is collecting data on service they provide. Ask your future MSP if they track metrics of response times, answering calls, resolutions, customer satisfaction, and more. Not only will this give you an idea of what to expect, but it holds them accountable, and that data can be used to improve processes over time. 

Finally, a good practice many reputable MSPs have is a money back guarantee – if they do not meet your SLA, you get a defined refund. Like metric tracking, this shows they hold themselves accountable and are committed to giving you excellent service.

In Conclusion

The service level agreement outlines your relationship with your MSP. It is important that your organization defines its needs and clearly explains them to the MSP. For the MSPs part, they should explain in great detail how they will resolve your issues, and give you confidence in what to expect when you contact them to solve a problem. If you effectively communicate what your organization requires, and ensure the SLA fulfills it, you are on your way to having an optimal relationship with your new managed services provider.


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Editors Note: This post was originally published in 2020 and has since been updated for content and clarity.

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