A service level agreement specifies what is expected from a supplier in terms of delivery...

Providing good support
Providing good support

POTENTIAL suppliers of IT training or technical support services should be asked some pertinent questions before contracts are signed.

It’s in everyone’s interests to get things right from the start – and it’s about common sense rather than having an in-depth knowledge of the subject.

After all, if you know more than the geeks, why get a geek to provide a service?

IT systems are a significant investment for many businesses and it is important that staff make the best use of technology.

If staff are trained to use IT properly they can be more productive and the business will run more smoothly – and staff won’t be demoralised when they don’t know how to use whiz-bang new software.

Government help service Business Link reckons that the following set of posers are worth putting to the professionals:

l How long has the supplier been established?

l What training materials and documentation are provided to attendees of the training company’s courses?

l Does the training company offer any materials for evaluation purposes to try before you buy?

l Does the company conduct a training needs analysis and offer consultancy? If so, at what rates?

l Are costs based on the number of students or is there a set charge for a particular course?

l Is the company prepared to provide training on-site? What facilities will be needed?

l What are the specific costs associated with the provision of technical support, eg an annual cost or renewable subscription, a charge per PC being supported, charges based on the number of users etc?

l What procedures are in place to escalate support calls to ensure that they progress towards a solution?

l Is the technical support supplier prepared to make on-site visits to address and rectify technical issues with your systems? If so, what are the charges associated with such services?

l What qualifications do the support supplier’s technicians hold? Are they fully qualified or certified by the manufacturers to support and maintain your IT hardware and software?

l Can the support company provide references to contact?

One important aspect of any technical support contract is what is known as a service level agreement (SLA).

The SLA specifies precisely what is expected from a supplier in terms of the delivery, quality and effectiveness of the service being provided.

A typical SLA should include the following:

l Scope – details of hardware and software to be covered.

l Range of services – the services that the supplier will be required to provide, eg helpdesk, initial off-site diagnosis of faults, on-site engineering support, temporary on-site staffing cover etc.

l Service availability – defines when the service should be available, paying particular attention to any irregular hours.

l Response times – an important aspect of the SLA. Usually the faster the response times, the greater the cost.

l Escalation procedures – an agreed series of actions used to ensure problems are dealt with without delay and responses are intensified until the problem is resolved .

l Record keeping – details of problems and solutions must be properly documented. Records may be required for dispute resolution.

l Performance review – necessary to maintain acceptable levels of service over time.

l Termination of agreement – a formal process which defines the specific terms and conditions under which the contract may be terminated.

> Visit www.businesslink.gov.uk