The IT function within any business can be considered as a tool designed to leverage the attaining of that business’s goals, the biggest of which is to make money – to turn over a profit. What no company can afford to do is to jeopardise that goal, by allowing the best tool it has for achieving it, to under-perform.
The Product Guarantee
Most of the important tools that are used in operating a business are protected with a guarantee. These guarantees are usually straightforward. If the product fails within a given time scale, (usually those time scales can be lengthened to meet circumstances), it will be repaired or replaced free of charge. If the tool in question is a Van or a Lathe, that arrangement works well, always providing the repair or exchange is done in a timely manner. But with IT it’s quite different.
What's more, with IT hardware products, often they have to be returned to the manufacturer for replacement or repair if they fail under guarantee and this could take some time.
The Complexity of the IT Function
IT is a complex function. There are many aspects of it that can go wrong, and for a multiple of reasons. The problem is that IT fundamentally is important to all aspects of business administration; sales, purchasing, design, accounts marketing, etc, and sometimes production too. A serious glitch or failure doesn’t just affect one thing – it affects the entire infrastructure.
Data is increasingly important
The other consideration is that the IT infrastructure is not just a piece of hardware or software that may need replacing; it’s also the data that could get lost or become compromised. When all of these aspects are taken into consideration, a simple product guarantee just doesn’t work. This is precisely why SLAs came into being.
What is an SLA?
SLA stands for Service Level Agreement. In basic terms, an SLA defines the level of service that is agreed between the service user, and the service provider. In theory each SLA is a bespoke agreement that is tailor-made to suit an individual user’s particular IT infrastructure.
How necessary are SLAs?
SLAs first came into being in the 1980s. However, with the ever growing importance of the IT function, and business’s reliability on it, SLAs are more necessary than ever for the small and large enterprise alike. As networks become more complex, and with the advent of new technologies like cloud computing and unified communications, SLA’s are now beginning to be viewed as an essential piece of any company’s IT infrastructure.
Why Small Businesses need SLAs
Whether or not a small business needs an SLA will depend on two things. First and foremost, there needs to be a computer network in place, because essentially that is what SLA’s are all about - servicing networks, as well as the cabling and hardware that goes with them.
Secondly, and given that the small business in question does indeed have a network in place, then the next consideration will be one of finance. Service Level Agreements cost money, of course. Costs will usually be pro rata dependent on the size of the network and its complexity.
Small companies with limited finances often see this as a barrier, but this isn’t really the case. Increased running costs may be hard to “bankroll” and so the business owner must consider the overall picture. If the system goes down and outside help has to be gained, then what will that cost, both in terms of actual pounds, and also, perhaps more importantly, in terms of time?
Time can of course be the most precious of commodities. Without a fully functioning computer network, ongoing business will slow down, or may even stop altogether, and, in the meantime, new sales opportunities will be missed. In other words, the “opportunity cost” of not having an SLA in place could easily outweighs the actual cost of the SLA itself. This is especially true of the connected world we live in, businesses can’t afford the down time that not having an SLA will inevitably bring. Think about if a web server goes down and how much any one business may rely on it for ecommerce, the loss of revenue is substantial if the company has to wait for a standard (usually expensive) call out.
Setting the Bar High Enough
One negative thing that some people say about SLAs is that they are only set to provide a minimum service level. However, what these people are forgetting, is that the terms of a Service Level Agreement are open to negotiation. The service levels can be set as high or as low as required; now more than ever, IT is becoming a level playing field for the small business as flexibility, SLAs and scalability offer more opportunity to make the most of technology without the need for a huge capital outlay.
Do Small Businesses need SLAs?
The answer to the question “why choose an SLA for small business” is simple. It will help any business operating a computer network to meet certain standards in terms of maintaining the quality of service to its users.
Small companies don’t tend to have an IT department that can service and look after the needs of the network. It’s more common to find a couple of people around the office that are good with technology will find the IT needs of the business become a part of their job. This isn't the most cost-effective solution, unless of course that person was taken on in the capacity of being the company’s IT support person. It’s also not always ideal to have just one person doing this and it also means that much of the maintenance work will have to be carried out in office hours. Again, this results in downtime and can affect revenue negatively.
Choosing an SLA needn't be costly and it’s not just for the large enterprise, but is one that is suitable for all businesses large and small.