The Service Level Agreement, or SLA as it's known in acronym land, is a double edged sword. If the situation arises requiring its use, it can be your savior. Unless, of course, you didn't pay much attention to it when you were signing all of those documents.
When do I need an SLA?
In today's business environment, more and more companies are looking for vendors to help them save time and money. Some services such as phones, technical support and even coffee service are now being outsourced. Managing a vendor's performance can be a difficult task. There must be a way to hold them accountable for the level of service they provide. This accountability comes in the form of a Service Level Agreement, or SLA.
Most Service Agreements will include a SLA. A good SLA will have specific, measurable standards to which the vendor, will be held. The most important parts of the previous sentence are "specific" and "measurable". If the vendor is providing their "standard" SLA, it is highly likely it will be written with a more self-serving slant..
A metric is the specific means by which their service will be measured. These metrics will vary from vendor to vendor depending upon the type of service they are providing. You should go into all negotiations having already defined your own metics to which you will hold the vendor accountable. Many times, you can gauge future interfacing difficulties by the amount of negotiating a vendor will do once your metrics have been defined and presented to them.
The SLA should bullet-point the exact services which are to be provided. It should also point out any gray areas and how those areas will be addressed within the scope of the service provided. This is something you will have to put in, as the vendor most certainly will not. Likewise, if a specific service is not to be provided, it should be listed as well. Be sure to include definitions where possible.
For example, if a vendor is to provide you techncial support over the phone for your desktop computers, but not for your printers, both of these points need to be explained in the SLA. The task of printer support and where responsibilities and expectations lie, should then be detailed in the SLA.
The most difficult aspect of a good SLA is determing and agreeing upon how the level of service will be measured. In the example above, technical support can be measured in the amount of time it takes to resolve an issue, or the number of issues resolved, or the complexity, or a thousand other things. The key here is to have a regularly scheduled report of the measure. Maintaining good records of every issue with a vendor's service is critical in the event you must provide proof of their failure to meet the SLA requirements.
The SLA should also define the kind and amount of penalty that would be assessed in the event service levels did not meet expectations. Be sure to include a fixed time frame for resolution and restitution if it is required.
In short, your SLA should include metrics that you know can be quantified and calculated easily. Communicating with your vendor through regularly scheduled reports and meetings will keep everyone in the loop and can help to head off potential problems. Again, every service, like every vendor, will have their own nuances, best practices and procedures. Knowing what you need and maintaining a firm position will get you a Service Level Agreement focused on your best interests.