Looking anew at Service Level Agreements
“Service Level Agreements”–does the phrase bore you or bring you to tears? Make you run looking for a task designee?
You are probably in good company. I suspect there are lots of Service Level Agreement (SLA) templates available online for the very reason that many people prefer to relegate this work to the back burner. And, to be fair, there certainly is a category of SLA that can be treated as “repeat business,” with little customization needing to be done for each new iteration.
If you feel this way about SLAs, I’d like to try to convince you otherwise–that the SLA is, in fact, a unique opportunity for one or more very interesting conversations. I hold this view for several reasons. Many technology groups in Library Land are only now beginning to develop an understanding of what it takes to provide a genuine production-level service to their end users. This means that prior to negotiating an agreement about what production services might entail, managers and the technology staff must do some thinking, planning and discussing among themselves. They may even need to put some infrastructural changes in place.
So, the first interesting conversations are the ones you have even before you talk to those you serve. You have to answer questions like:
- What kind of services are we ready to provide, under what circumstances?
- When we say “available,” what do we mean?
- How do end users report problems, and how does problem escalation work?
- Where will we test fixes and enhancements while production services continue to run?
If you are in a co-development arrangement with a partner, the SLA may become one of the key frameworks for working out the nuts and bolts of that relationship. The SLA can actually open up into something more like a hybrid SLA-collaborative work agreement, where you have an opportunity to document the understandings you have with one another about code ownership, location of the code repository, tool and documentation conventions, and so forth. This can also be a place to document any processes or structures you want to introduce for joint change management.
So, take a new look at SLAs. As the record of a conversation, they can be a very useful tool for you.