The key document to service success is a service level agreement (SLA) which, if done correctly, sets the business expectations of providers and their clients. As we all know, this document outlines the roles and responsibilities of each party and establishes the very foundation for the business relationship. An SLA is arguably as essential to a successful service business as is the actual service to be provided, protecting the interests of both organizations with clearly defined objectives and measures to ensure the client’s goals are consistently reached.
These agreements help remove the “fear factor” from technology. But, if the SLA is the starting point between the service company and its client, how does that change when you (the MSP) adds a third part:; an outsourced partner?
When your service company partners with other providers; whether it be an MSP Help Desk and NOC or another MSP which specializes in some form of service delivery that you cannot reasonably offer – a new layer of complexity is added to your procedures – potentially blurring the lines of responsibility.
Enter a well-crafted SLA and Reseller Agreement between all parties. With such a document in place, a framework is set to minimize complications, defining the role of each contributor and creating termination clauses in case either party feels the advantage in partnering has diminished. Legal language aside, one key component must be in every agreement; specific provisions detailing the methods used to monitor and provide service level reports for the end client. The emphasis in building an SLA must be on the deliverables, with processes agreed uponby all parties and measurements in place for all services and privacy.
So how should a service provider build an SLA for their own customers with their outsourced MSP partners in mind? Start by dissecting the key components of a quality agreement and your criteria as set by your customers!
Scope of services: Will you provide “white label” cloud or other solutions that will be hosted or supported by a vendor or other provider? Make sure you include the same language and stipulations from the agreements you signed with those parties to ensure continuity. You don’t want to guarantee you will restore their email within 60 minutes if your contract with a vendor spells out a 2 hour restoration of service assurance. While those support issues are outlined in other sections of the SLA, it’s important to remember to align the scope between both your outsource partner and client SLAs.
Hours of coverage/availability: Clarifying which company provides support at every minute of every day of the year is a critical component of your client’s SLA. Before creating the document for your customers, ensure the responsibilities are properly outlined with your outsource partners – and included in your contracts. If external support partners are used, it’s good to include that notification here to provide full disclosure to your client. While it’s easy to say you’ll provide 24/7 support, can you actually ensure it will happen and does everyone know their role in making sure that takes place? The worst situation possible is to have a client failure caused by a lack of communication with your outsource partner. Everything must be documented, with responsibilities and performance reviewed and adjusted at frequent intervals to make sure no one falls down on the job and that opportunities to improve are continually identified and acted upon.
Service desk, maintenance, and support specifics: What will be covered and by who? Outline the players (such as GMS Live Expert for your Live MSP Help desk) and procedures in clear language, along with measurable expectations for each service provided. If you offer first line support only, ensure that you thoroughly explain what that entails. Escalation procedures and expectations come next, including the performance measures that will be used to measure success or failure. When outsourcing your service desk, the partner used for that support should be consulted when drafting your SLAs to make sure they can (and will) back up commitments you make to your clients. This section of an SLA must include:
- Privacy Policies
- The level of support for each service
- Clear definition of responsibility for tasks
- Clear definition for hours of availability
- Escalation procedures for issues
- Response time for each step through resolution
- Recovery time for outages
Ongoing system development: Outline how your client’s systems will be evaluated and how often this will occur. Over the life of an IT services contract, updates and new solutions will likely be required to keep pace with advances in technology or growth of their business. How will you review and amend the SLA? If outsourced partners might play a part in the assessment, development, or implementation of these projects, it’s good to let clients know up front. For longer contracts, a best practice is to schedule an annual or even quarterly assessment with the customer to outline updates or new project options that will keep their business competitive (or create new efficiencies).
Standards used (quality controls): if your client has to meet industry or government standards, the SLA should outline the specific requirements and how they will be addressed. For example, if the client mandates SaaS 70 standards be employed by their service provider—including the use of any offsite facilities or systems—the specific needs have to be included in the agreement. If you outsource any of their backup or data center needs, the requirement still must be maintained and should be included with your contracts with those partners.
Education and training: Outline end user training procedures, including how it will be provided for future products and services. A best practice is to include a stipulation allowing you to use qualified third-party vendors to perform certain parts or all of this education. This stipulation is in the best interest of your clients, allowing you to implement, support and train them on the specialized applications or systems that give them a leg up on the competition. The training needs for vertical specific software applications or broad suites can be extensive and, unless you have the time and experienced people capable of providing it, outsourcing it to the professionals is likely best for all involved.
As you can see, including an outsource partner in your SLAs isn’t difficult, but requires good communications and planning between all parties. Take a look at your existing agreements and see if you’ve covered your bases concerning services collaboration. To learn more about our sponsor’s SLAs get in touch with GMS Live Expert.