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A “Service Level Agreement” (SLA) is one of the dozens of document types created regularly by technical communicators, usually under the supervision of the corporate legal departments.
An SLA is typically issued by a technology service company to regulate its business relationship with the customer, or end-user. Web-hosting companies and SAS (Software as a Service) providers, for example, regularly have their customers sign (or agree online by clicking on an “I Agree” check-box or radio-button) an SLA at the time the user account is created. SLA is the kind of “fine print” that no end-user ever reads but what the companies refer to in order to settle all disputes. Thus it’s a very important document that needs to be prepared carefully.
A typical Service Level Agreement (SLA) consists of the following 5 main components (Source: Sun Microsystems):
1) What will the service consist of? What is the definition of the “service” in question?
2) How exactly will the service provider deliver the promised service? What are the delivery mechanisms, schedules, etc.?
3) How will the delivery be measured? Who will measure what kind and quantity of service measured? How will be “failure” be measured and acknowledged?
4) What are the sanctions or penalties in case the parties agree that the service was not delivered as specified in SLA? 5) How will the SLA change in the future? Or will it remain fixed?
There are a wide variety of SLAs, including the following:
1) Customer-Based SLA: defines the kind of service the provider will be offering to a well-defined customer, like the Accounting Department of a supermarket chain, for example.
2) Service-Based SLA: defines the service provided for all customers in general, regardless of the specific nature of the end-user. For example the way Amazon waives shipping charge for all orders over $25, regardless of who places the order. Note that such service-based SLAs do not need to be permanent and can be changed unilaterally by the provider, unless it is prevented by some other agreement that provider has signed.
3) Multi-Level SLA: defines how the same service will be provided to different customer groups with different conditions. For example, airline companies provide different levels of service to first-class and economy-class passengers despite the fact that both groups of customers fly to the same destination inside the same aircraft.
There are also Internal SLAs defining the nature of services that one department or subsidiary of a company will provide to another. Such SLAs are used to determine whether it’s more “optimal” to procure the service from an internal provider versus a third party. By educating yourself about the SLAs you can add one more item to your catalog of offerings as a technical communicator and make a better impression during the job interviews.