How to Develop a Service Level Agreement


SLA defines formal relationship between IT and business.

How many times have we dealt with our business partners and the demands for solving minor to major applications issues?  Everyone wants it now but what we often fail to have in place is a Service Level Agreement to identify terms for solving our business unit customer issues. 

The existence of a quality service level agreement is of fundamental importance for any service or product delivery.  It defines the formal relationship between the IT organization and your business unit customers. A Service Level Agreement is a contract between IT and the business that identifies the boundaries for repairing applications issues.  It is the negotiation between the two groups that records the understanding between organizations.  It usually is in measurable terms and lays out what services will be provided.  

To be effective, a Service Level Agreement must incorporate two sets of elements: service elements and management elements. The service elements clarify services by communicating such things as the services provided, conditions of service availability, service standards- such as timeframes within which services will be provided, the responsibilities of both parties, costs versus service tradeoffs, and last, escalation procedures.

Without an SLA, the customer (or business unit) does not have any boundaries for demanding resolution to something they may be a problem or perceived as a problem.  When writing an SLA, some of the terms that should be specified include:

-- What percentage of the overall time services will be available

-- The number of users that can be served

-- Specific performance benchmarks to which actual performance will be periodically compared

-- The schedule for notification in advance of network changes that may affect users

-- Help desk response time for various issues

I have found that sometimes the business unit wants to create an SLA to suppress complaints; however, attempting to establish an SLA with complaining customers usually backfires because the IT organization will see it as just one more thing to complain about. Before engaging in SLA efforts, the IT organization should obtain customer feedback, seek to understand the complaints, and take some small, but visible, steps to resolve the complaints. The timing may then be better to establish an SLA.

Laura Paoletti holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Information Systems and has been the Vice President of Information Technology at NBC-Universal and Disney ABC Television.  She has also held positions at Ernst & Young LLP in the Technology practice.  In her role she has been responsible for Applications, Infrastructure and Digital Media.  Some of her notable accomplishments include the implementation of applications for Digital Media, Marketing, Finance, Manufacturing (supply chain), Sales and Consumer Products; Implementation of Enterprise Data Warehousing/Business Intelligence systems; Data Center management, including hardware, storage strategies, digital libraries and data center expansion; Implementation of a Project Management office; and Business transformation from a tape to a tapeless environment (digital media).

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(Shutterstock image credit: SLA)