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Service level agreements: your peace of mind.

Service. It's what we provide, and it's also what we need each day. As telecomm professionals, service is our principal product. It's more important than networks, switches, software, training, and all the other elements that make up our daily roster of activities.

Imagine how life as a telecomm professional would be without fast maintenance responses from PBX or centrex suppliers. Imagine how life might be without advanced intelligent network services to pinpoint potential service disruptions before they escalate into serious business disruptions.

How do we ensure the best possible service for our companies? And how can we assure our customers that we will provide them best possible support?

Warranties provide basic guarantees of performance and support, usually for a limited period of time. Warranties guarantee that defective products will be repaired or replaced if defective. After a warranty period expires, two popular options can be selected. Maintenance contracts provide extended-term guarantees for product repair and/or replacement. Extended warranties stretch original warranty provisions over a greater period of time. Either option offers additional peace of mind.

Can the concept of "service" be guaranteed? Webster has numerous definitions for service: 1) the occupation or function of serving, 2) useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity, 3) a facility providing maintenance and repair, and 4) the act of providing maintenance or repair service. So, the answer to the question is most definitely "yes." We ensure this kind of activity by contracting vendors to commit to specific response times for various maintenance activities. A typical example is a four-hour vendor response (arrive on site, ready to work) to a "major outage" in a switch, router, server, or other network device. Similarly, a "minor outage" might elicit a 24-hour response.

But a basic vendor response as defined above may not be enough, especially for sophisticated multiprotocol, multivendor LAN users. This is where service level agreements (SLAs) can be considered.

SLAs define the expectations a user places on a service provider. They also define what vendors expect of users, such as availability of suitable work space and support facilities for the vendor. Both user and vendor can negotiate the type of service to be provided, specific actions to be performed, time frames for response, time frames for completion of repairs, penalties for poor or sub-par performance, and even escape clauses for users (and vendors) to extricate themselves from unsatisfactory arrangements.

SLAs take provision of "service" to new heights. As such, they also require more work than traditional maintenance agreements or warranties, which are generally written by the vendor; provisions are in the vendor's favor. SLAs, by contrast, are jointly developed by user and vendor, with the emphasis on "service first." They are contracts between vendor and client that ensure the provision of specific activities, such as user training, remote diagnostics and disaster recovery planning. They also define the user's expectations for the provision of stated activities, such as 1) completion of contracted activities with a specific time frame, 2) level of content and speaker platform skills for the delivery of training services, and 3) remote monitoring and reporting of alerts for all LAN segments, regardless of type of network.

Service level agreements require several components: support from management, good legal advice, commitment on the user's part to SLAs and a vendor willing to elevate the provision of service to a higher level. Assuming these are all available, perform the following steps:

1. Define the minimum acceptable level of service for a specific product, professional service, or other defined activity.

2. Transform the provision of service into specific manageable and measurable tasks. These are essential to ensure that defined service levels are being attained.

3. Define additional levels of service that are "desirable" but not necessarily mandatory. These can be negotiated as extra-cost items.

4. Develop language to spell out specific levels of performance in "normal" and "out of normal" conditions. Define "out of normal" conditions.

5. Define penalties for failure to provide service within defined performance levels.

6. Define alternatives to the principla expectations for service provision; for instance, if service level 1 does not produce desirable results, the vendor can activate service level 2.

7. Develop a contract between user and vendor that clearly spells out the above provisions.

8. Execute the agreement, and launch performance measurement activities to ensure that contract service levels are attained-and maintained.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Communications Management; methods for securing the best service level agreements
Author:Kirvan, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 1, 1995
Words:725
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