Keep SLAs in mind when establishing maintenance plans

Park Place Hardware Maintenance

Parker Published: August 22, 2013

Service level agreements often end up dictating the success or failure of a service plan. These contracts outline precisely what is expected of the vendor, what the client needs to do to take advantage of these opportunities and what happens if either party does not come through on its side of the deal. Because SLAs are often important, they are also usually complex. This complexity, however, can end up negating the functionality of the agreement because it becomes so filled with legal jargon and provisos that it does not meet the intended need of ensuring that everybody in the deal understands what they are getting and what they can expect from the arrangement as a whole.

This complexity issue is particularly problematic when considering technological systems, such as third-party hardware maintenance and operating system support. IT managers trying to take advantage of a third-party provider services instead of an OEM support warranty can quickly be overwhelmed by overly complex SLAs that, in the end, favor the service provider to a problematic degree. The key, when working to overcome this issue, is to partner with a customer-centric maintenance provider that offers simplified SLA models that integrate various support services into a single contract.

Simplifying SLAs

Managing support warranties can prove incredibly difficult for IT managers because they must deal with multiple vendors in the process. OEM extended warranties can lead to incredible complexity when an organization must have an EMC support plan for some storage arrays, a Sun support warranty for others, a separate Dell support plan for a portion of servers and an HP support solution for the rest. This means that IT managers are balancing at least four separate support SLAs on top of the initial warranties that are still active. Alternately, a third-party maintenance provider that offers integrated SLA models can put all of the storage, server and network systems into a single package, allowing IT managers to move devices into and out of coverage based on their needs.

The end result of converging distinct OEM support plans into a single contract is a much simpler SLA that allows IT managers to focus on the operational policies included in the agreement. There are a few things to keep in mind when assessing an SLA.

Response times: The SLA may or may not specify how long it will take for clients to get a response, but it should be investigated as part of the contract negotiation process. It is vital to have some idea about call center policies and field engineer procedures before signing an SLA, as a binding agreement can get IT managers stuck in a bad situation if the service provider is not particularly responsive.

Billing methods: Money is often the most important consideration in any maintenance strategy, and many third-party providers can offer prices that are more customer-friendly than the OEM. However, lower upfront costs can disappear if the maintenance plan includes a number of hidden charges, fees or operational limitations that create costs. A clear billing process that includes easy-to-read invoices can position IT managers to not only avoid unexpected charges, but also understand exactly what they are paying for at any time.

Flexibility: With some maintenance SLAs, the vendor pretty much puts the contract in front of IT managers and if they like the deal, they can take it. Flexibility is not usually a chief consideration in the sector, but some customer-centric maintenance providers are beginning to change this expectation through flexible, adaptable service models that are capable of keeping pace with customer demands.

SLA issues can hold the key to success with any hardware maintenance plan. Negotiating a good SLA is critical to success, and simplified contract models can help.

About the Author

Parker, Park Place Assistant