Part Three of Managed Services Series: Service Level Agreements
In my previous post, I spoke about the importance of monitoring and minimizing downtime and the related costs incurred by organizations. In this post, I want to elaborate how a company stands to benefit after putting in place a service level agreement (SLA) with a third party company to manage their IT services. SLAs are important because managed IT services are integrated with every department and person in a company. Every person must be heard! When technology stops working, employees cannot complete their work and deadlines are missed.
What is a Service Level Agreement?
An SLA is a document between the IT provider and the management and employees of a company. The purpose of the agreement is to address the needs and concerns of all employees and outline the benefits. Some of the key benefits include how to effectively communicate with employees, how to prevent and resolve problems and how to objectively measure promised versus actual outcomes. It is crucial that management is committed to creating and updating an SLA as necessary to ensure it meets the organization’s changing needs.
The SLA must provide steps showing how to effectively communicate between employees and the IT provider. Employees must know when and how to make a request, depending on the day and time and whether by mail, telephone or in-person. They must be able to provide sufficient information such that the issue can be evaluated and resolved. The IT company will have an internal process such that incoming requests are addressed and resolved in a timely professional manner.
Regarding problem prevention and resolution, the SLA must define the priority for each type of request and the appropriate response times. For example, enterprise wide applications like email and applications related to deadlines like reports and presentations are high priority. Specialty applications for a department may also be high priority. Applications installed on a single employee’s computer are usually considered a low priority.
HR and SLAs: Keeping the peace and preserving business operations.
From a practical perspective, one of the most important parts of an SLA is the relationship with human resources. For example, when a new employee is hired, the human resources department communicates with that person’s manager and with IT. What does a manager expect when a new employee is hired? They will want the person setup with logins to email, computer, tablets and smart phones with local and remote access. They will want them to have a phone extension, voice mail, access to enterprise wide software applications, and specialized applications for their department. Human resources must carefully coordinate with IT for each incoming employee to ensure a smooth onboarding process, allowing the employee to “hits the ground running”.
A different set of steps regarding suspending or revoking access to applications and the network is required by IT when an employee is exiting temporarily or permanently. This includes employee vacations, leave of absences, resignations and terminations. How many organizations can say they promptly get new hires up to speed or by the same token, quickly revoke access and privileges to exiting employees. Professional IT support that is quick and smooth is necessary.
Employees want strong leadership from management. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to ensure employees are happy and productive with their technology, so they can focus on what they do best. When employees know how to ask for help when technology ‘breaks’, the ‘peace of mind’ that follows also leads to strong trust relationships with the IT professionals. Support can easily shift between phone, in-person by email as comfort and trust grow. This improves employee morale and increases productivity.
In cases where an SLA in not in place, a company must call a company for emergency IT “break and fix” support. The technician will be unfamiliar with the organization and may be unable to accurately estimate the scale and time to resolve the problem. This often leads to temporary bandage solutions that lead to an inevitable crash and resulting downtime. This is the reason companies lose tens of thousands of dollars annually in lost productivity and opportunity costs.
Organizations need to meet with an IT services provider to create a new SLA or update an existing one. All successful organizations are busy, serving customers and competing in the market place. Losing valuable time and productivity due to a technology disruption and downtime that could have been avoided is something all organizations need to make a top priority.
What does ‘peace of mind’ mean for a company if this translates into happy motivated employees who can thrive every day? As I have said before, the ‘warm embrace’ of managed services coupled with a clear concrete service level agreement (SLA) makes this possible rather than a nice to have.