In Part I we discussed the starting point of your outsourcing project and how you go about selecting service providers to issue RFPs to. In Part II we discussed proposal evaluation and in Part III we discussed the dispute resolution process that needs to be addressed up-front in the contract. Today we will discuss the service level agreements, and remind you to check out the full series on outsourcing risk management by Alsbridge, as printed by SourcingMag.com, that this series is partially based on.
So What Do You Need With Respect to Service Level Agreements?
Vague, optimistic promises of a happy life together may work for some personal relationships, but they don’t work between two companies. Creating a well-defined SLA to define your organization’s needs and expectations has many benefits, including the:
- provision of a common understanding of exactly what service is being provided (how, when, where, when, by whom, etc.)
- definition of common realistic expectations
- simplification of complex issues by focussing on what is important
- reduction of conflict by eliminating what’s not important
- clarification of the bonuses for exceeding SLAs and the ramifications for failing to meet delivery requirements
- framework for later modification and improvement as the need arises
When deciding what to measure, remember that you shouldn’t measure anything that shouldn’t be quantified. For example, use phrases like “99.99% uptime” not “make our customers happy”. The first is objective and a measurement can be clearly defined. The second is subjective, and there’s no way to objectively measure it. Response time is important, but instead of saying “respond rapidly to customer inquiries”, define a maximum hold time of 10 minutes and then you can define a penalty metric if more than five calls per week exceed the maximum hold time.
Also be sure to clarify your responsibilities and the support a provider requires to meet their metrics. For example, if they are expected to investigate any issues that arise relating to the integration of their external systems with your internal systems, you must ensure that they have the right level of access at all times. Otherwise, they can’t be held responsible for missed delivery targets.
And make sure the number of metrics tracked is reasonable. Too few, and you can’t really measure how well the provider is operating (or define penalty clauses if more than a certain percentage of the metrics are missed in an evaluation period, since 20% of the metrics will always be missed every time the provider misses 1 metric if you only track 5). Too many, and the bookkeeping requirements are too costly and onerous for both parties. Somewhere between 10 and 20 is usually just fine if you focus on the right metrics. (And if you’re not sure what metrics to select to diagnose a sick patient, call the doctor.)
Finally, don’t forget that you need a baseline period. Typically, the first quarter is used to define a baseline and the provider is then measured starting in month four. (It typically takes two months of “transition period” where control is shifted to the provider and the “kinks” are worked out before you can extract a solid baseline in month three.)
When it comes to defining bonuses and penalties, you need to be somewhere between a new mug and a vacation in Hawaii for the former and somewhere between a slap on the wrist and the electric chair for the latter. Bonuses that are too trivial won’t entice the provider to step up their game, but bonuses that are too extravagant will end up costing you dearly as the provider will go out of their way to insure they do everything in their power for free money. Similarly, if all the provider gets is a slap on the wrist, they’re not going to care whether or not they hit a performance target or not. But if you threaten the electric char, if the provider even signs the agreement, you can be sure the fees for the service level guarantees will be exorbitant as they will have to build in a financial safety net. Be fair, and you’ll get the best possible deal.
In the next, and final part, of this series, we’ll talk about what you do after the contract is signed.