IT Outsourced  

Great expectations

Service Level Agreements are an agreement between a provider and an end user which lays out the guidelines for providing a service or product. It’s important to examine your business processes and the technology used in these processes. From this, you can make decisions on what level of service you require. Sometimes it’s the perception of an agreement that ends the relationship. Many internet packages from internet providers only promise to have a technician onsite within 24 hours. If you rely on the internet to do business, this can be a problem, but the cost of providing a level of service you require can also be a problem.

One of my clients has an agreement with an Internet Service provider (ISP) and also has a significant accounting process which is cloud based. If the internet is down, then so is the ability to provide service to their clients. This has been very reliable, but not free of problems. Often when there is a problem the onus is on the client to determine the nature of the problem. I work closely with remote support for both companies until we isolate the problem down to one service or another, and finally a solution. They are not under any obligation to determine where the problem is located. Once they are confident that their systems are functioning correctly, they are done. One service that I provide for this client is to act as a liaison between the two companies, but I cannot offer any guarantees on resolution, since the problem is not something I can correct.

I haven’t ever been happy with my attempts to put into words what I consider a good agreement between myself and the clients I support. Often the preparation is a combination of education and consulting. If I warn you about the dangers, then you can take steps to deal with the threat, or at least accept responsibility for the risk of failure. One client said to me,  "If we bought every support contract and extended warranty, we wouldn’t be able to make a profit."

Information Technology has become so pervasive in our society that whole movies have been based on the breakdown of the infrastructure – Did you see “Live free, or Die hard”, with Bruce Willis? It’s very difficult to plan on every foreseeable failure, and sometimes a combination of problems can make it seem like the world is ending. The danger for me is to make unrealistic promises (Like “I will be onsite within 1 hr”), then fail to deliver. A good SLA should reflect the worst scenario for service, not the best.

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About the Author

Mark Smed started as a self-employed consultant, integrating computers into small business in 1989.  The range of work expanded into installing networks and consulting with businesses on the fast paced changes in technology.  As his career progressed he taught Network Administration at a small business college and continued to build his base of clients. 

Today, Mark works for Northern Computer Inc. (http://www.northerncomputer.ca) as a consultant, specialist and technician.  His client base continues to grow and many of his clients have worked with him for over 10 years now.  In 2001, Mark joined the Network Professional Association (http://www.npa.org) and now sits on the board of directors and is responsible for publishing the Network Professional Journal for the association.

Mark can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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