NEW REPORT: The State of CLM and AI-Powered Contract Intelligence

What is a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?

Learn about Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and discover why they are important for your business. Explore the components of an SLA, who uses them, and the benefits they offer. Learn about best practices and challenges managing contract SLAs and how a contract lifecycle management tool can help. 

A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a contract between a service provider and a customer that defines the quality and scope of the service that will be delivered. It is a critical document in any business relationship; essentially, an SLA sets the expectations for both parties involved, making it a critical document in any business relationship. It specifies both parties' responsibilities, expectations, and obligations and the metrics for measuring and enforcing the service level. It also defines the remedies that will be available to the customer if the service provider does not meet the agreed-upon levels of service.

SLAs are important for both service providers and customers. For service providers, SLAs help to ensure that they are meeting the expectations of their customers while also setting reasonable expectations and protecting against scope creep. For customers, SLAs provide a guarantee of the level of service that they can expect.

Benefits of SLAs 

In the high-stakes world of modern business, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are more than just legal boilerplate - they're the unspoken choreography ensuring smooth operations and satisfied customers. SLAs empower businesses to not just hope for optimal performance, but expect it, with defined benchmarks for uptime, response times, and issue resolution. Imagine a world where IT outages are a distant memory, customer service inquiries receive prompt attention, and critical projects hit deadlines with metronomic precision. SLAs make this reality a possibility, fostering predictability in an unpredictable market landscape. By setting clear expectations and measuring performance against objective standards, SLAs pave the way for improved communication, resource allocation, and ultimately, a competitive edge.  

Performance Assurance

SLAs provide a clear benchmark for service performance, giving customers peace of mind that they will receive the expected quality of service.

Accountability

By defining responsibilities and performance metrics, SLAs establish clear lines of accountability. If the service provider fails to meet their obligations, the SLA provides a basis for addressing the issue.

Dispute Resolution

In the event of disputes or service failures, SLAs serve as a reference point for resolving conflicts. They help avoid lengthy legal battles by providing a framework for addressing issues.

Continuous Improvement

Monitoring and reporting SLA metrics encourage service providers to improve their services continuously. This benefits both parties by ensuring that services remain reliable and efficient.

An SLA can help protect both parties and ensure the relationship is successful.

Who Uses an SLA? 

SLAs originated with network service providers and IT-related services but are now widely used in a range of fields and businesses. Today, they are commonly used by software as a service (SaaS) companies and departments such as customer service and sales. Although typically between companies and third parties, SLAs can also be between departments within a company. Companies can also use internal service-level agreements to avoid misinterpretation and miscommunication between departments. 

Below are some common business use cases of the SLA:

IT & cloud:

Uptime guarantees, data recovery times, and security commitments, ensuring seamless IT operations.

Software as a Service (SaaS):

Guaranteeing system availability, setting performance benchmarks, support response times, and software maintenance schedules, and ensuring the software supports the client's business needs continuously.

Customer service:

Setting response times, resolution targets, and escalation protocols for stellar customer experiences.

Professional services:

For services such as consulting, legal advice, or accounting, SLAs can define the scope of work, timelines for delivery, confidentiality levels, and the criteria for measuring the quality of work delivered.

Sales teams:

Aligning goals, defining lead generation benchmarks, and ensuring clear communication for enhanced performance.

E-commerce and retail:

SLAs define website uptime, delivery logistics, return policies, and customer service responsiveness to contribute to a positive shopping experience.

Healthcare:

Setting standards for appointment wait times, access to emergency services, and data confidentiality guarantee quality and timely patient care.

Internal departments:

SLAs enable smoother collaboration across departments by establishing service expectations and performance metrics.

This is by no means an exclusive list. By establishing clear metrics and expectations, SLAs across departments and industries help businesses mitigate risks, elevate service quality, and encourage strong, mutually beneficial relationships.

Types of SLAs 

There are three main types of service level agreements:

Service-based SLAs:

These SLAs focus on the specific services that the service provider is providing. For example, a service-based SLA for a cloud computing service might define the service's uptime, response time, and resolution time.

Customer-based SLAs:

These SLAs focus on the overall experience of the customer. For example, a customer-based SLA for a software company might define the number of support tickets that will be responded to within a specific time.

Multi-level SLAs:

These SLAs combine the features of service-based and customer-based SLAs. They can be used to define different service levels for different customers or types of services.

When creating a service level agreement, it is essential to carefully consider the customer's needs and the service provider's capabilities. The SLA should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Components of an SLA 

A typical SLA contains several key clauses, each of which plays a crucial role in defining the terms and conditions of the service:

Service Description

This section outlines the services to be provided, specifying what the customer can expect from the service provider. It may include details about the scope of services, such as the number of support hours, software updates, or maintenance tasks.

Service Level Objectives (SLOs)

SLOs are measurable targets that the service provider commits to achieving. These objectives can include metrics like uptime percentages, response times, and resolution times. SLOs are often expressed in quantifiable terms, making what is expected regarding service performance clear.

Performance Metrics

SLAs define the specific metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) used to evaluate the service provider's performance. These metrics can include system availability, error rates, and other relevant performance indicators.

Responsibilities

This section outlines the responsibilities of both the service provider and the customer. It defines who is responsible for what, clarifying how each party contributes to meeting the agreed-upon service levels.

Reporting and Communication

SLAs often specify how the parties will collect, report, and communicate performance data. Regular reporting ensures transparency and allows for continuous improvement.

Remedies and Penalties

In the unfortunate event that the service provider fails to meet the agreed-upon service levels, SLAs may include provisions for remedies or penalties. These can involve financial compensation or additional services to rectify the situation.

What are the best practices of SLA management?

SLA management is the backbone of smooth business relationships and operational excellence. However, crafting effective SLAs is more than getting the final signature. A truly effective SLA puts building trust at the forefront of the agreement: 

Clear Definition of Service Parameters

Clearly define the service parameters, outlining what's included, the expected quality, and critical timelines. Be specific. Think of it as painting a detailed picture of the service journey, leaving no room for confusion.

Mutual Understanding of Expectations

Both parties should have a shared understanding of what is expected from the service.

Measurable Metrics

Establish specific, quantifiable metrics to track service performance. Standard SLA metrics may include service availability, response time, resolution time, customer satisfaction scores, error rates, and other performance benchmarks. Think of them as checkpoints along the journey, ensuring all stakeholders are on the right track.

Regular Monitoring and Reporting

Regularly monitor performance against agreed-upon metrics and share the results openly. Think of it as a friendly progress report, keeping everyone informed and building trust.

Proactive Communication

If deviations from the agreement arise, address them head-on and proactively. The unexpected can happen, such as service interruptions or failures. Open, proactive communication is the best way to build and restore trust.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Allow room for SLA adjustments to cater to evolving business needs or changing market circumstances. Think of it as fine-tuning the partnership roadmap for an even smoother journey.

Formal Dispute Resolution Process

Business processes change, and disagreements can arise. Include a structured process for resolving conflicts or disputes related to the SLA. Think of it as a safety net for preventing disagreements from escalating into more costly disputes.

Collaborative Approach

Encourage collaboration between all stakeholders for continuous improvement of the business relationship.

Following these best practices can transform SLAs from mere contracts into powerful tools for fostering client trust, driving operational excellence, and building lasting partnerships.

The challenges of managing SLAs with traditional methods

Managing SLAs (service level agreements) manually can be daunting for any organization. SLAs are contracts that define the expectations and obligations of both the service provider and the customer, and they often involve complex metrics, calculations, and penalties. 

Some teams store their contract data in SharePoint. Others have homegrown systems. Some still use old-fashioned file cabinets and Excel spreadsheets. In most cases, these standalone contract repositories are only accessible to certain individuals and groups, with significant differences from one system to the next.

Lack of visibility: Without a centralized system to track and monitor SLA performance, it can be difficult to know if the service provider meets the agreed-upon standards and deadlines or if the customer is satisfied with the service quality and outcomes.

Human error: Tracking commitments and deadlines is a manual contracting process, one that’s prone to human error. Service level agreements (SLAs) details are often overlooked. For example, a service provider may use different formulas or definitions to measure SLA compliance, or a customer may dispute the data's accuracy or validity.

Inefficient review cycles: Manual SLA management can consume a lot of time and resources, both for the service provider and the customer. For instance, a service provider may need to collect data from multiple sources, perform calculations, generate reports, and communicate regularly with customers. A customer may need to review and verify the reports, provide feedback, and escalate issues if necessary.

Lack of agility: Manual SLA management can limit the ability of both parties to adapt to changing needs and expectations. Bogged down with siloed systems and inefficient processes, a service provider may be unable to adjust the SLA metrics or terms in real-time to changing conditions or customer demands. A customer may be unable to renegotiate the SLA without incurring penalties or costs.

Icertis Platform: a CLM System That Solves Those Challenges 

The good news is that Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) solutions exist to help you avoid these risks.

Contract management software enables automating and streamlining all aspects of an SLA’s contract lifecycle. A CLM system unifies previously scattered and siloed contracts into a single, central repository. This allows companies to standardize clauses and create clause libraries and templates across the organization. It also provides companies a platform to communicate their contract redlines securely and in real-time with all stakeholders, internal or external. An even more advanced CLM tool can use AI to automatically detect clause deviations and provide contract professionals with a dashboard to monitor contract risks, contract compliance, supplier performance, and other aspects of SLA management. These insights save precious time and resources and help cash flow management become much less complicated.

A best-in-class CLM software can provide organizations the following:

1. End-to-end contract automation for all contract types

2. Risk and compliance management

3. Business rules automation

4. Effective template and clause library management

5. Sourcing and invoicing collaboration portal

6. Channel and vendor payment compliance

7. Real-time reporting and analytics

An Icertis customer reported that with the power of a digital CLM platform, they were able to cut their SLA contract review cycle time by 50 to 60 percent! It transformed the way they managed their contractual commitments and the way they did business.

“Icertis Contract Intelligence has helped us improve contract compliance by streamlining and automating the way we monitor and manage SLA and SOW commitments, cutting what was a two-week contract cycle by 50 to 60 percent,” says Sanjeev Prasad, CIO, Genpact.

“Not only has this improved visibility into the process across all our customers—big and small—but it’s also enabled us to get things done more quickly and increase our speed to market.” 

 

With the advancements of AI technologies, artificial intelligence can further amplify the power of a CLM System from start to finish. AI can discover and elevate SLA obligations hidden in complex contract language to the contract professional, ensuring compliance and strengthening customer and supplier relationships. That is called Contract Intelligence.

In short, Service Level Agreements are essential to any business relationship where services are provided. By clearly defining the expectations of both parties, SLAs can help to ensure that the relationship is successful. Companies that use a CLM system to manage their SLA contracts can standardize and automate their contract lifecycle, fulfill obligations efficiently, and reduce risks. And with the advent of AI, insights and relevant alerts are surfaced to the user intelligently.

Want to learn more about Contract Intelligence and how it can revolutionize how you manage your service contracts? Schedule a call with one of our platform specialists or join an upcoming CLM demo to discover how Icertis can help you go beyond manual contract management.

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