6 Key Things to Look for in an IT Support Contract

Posted on Tuesday 27th September 2016 10:30

If you’re planning to outsource IT to another company then you need to look at more than just the price. An IT support contract can be complex and difficult to understand, so here are some of the key points you should look for.

IT Support Contracts

What’s the difference between an IT Support contract and SLA?

Once you’ve decided to outsource IT support or maintenance to another company, you’ll start looking into potential providers. Pretty soon you’ll hear the phrases ‘IT Support contract’ and ‘SLA’, or some variations of those at least. Before you go any further it’s important to understand what these are.

The contract is the main written agreement between yourself and the other party/parties. This will be a legally binding document that outlines the services, approach, duration, cost, resources, assumptions, etc.

The SLA – Service Level Agreement – is often a separate document that focuses the service levels you’ll receive. It sets out what levels of service are acceptable and the consequences if these levels are not met, allowing performance measurement for the service.

Having a separate SLA document means you can revise the SLA without having to revise the contract, adapting easily to any changing service level requirements. Keeping them separate helps to reduce the administrative strain of reviewing contracts too regularly.

What key things should your agreement cover?

Contracts and SLAs come in all shapes and sizes and most are designed to be customised for each specific client. Whatever formats they may take there are some key items that should be covered in either the contract or the SLA:

1. What You Get

There should be a complete list of what your support agreement covers, including what kinds of software and hardware are included.

What kind of support tiers are available? First, second and third line support tiers reflect good organisation and capability to handle issues with different levels of complexity or difficulty.

2. What You Don’t Get

Exclusions & Limitations – it’s normal for companies to exclude certain items from the services they provide. This might include IT issues due to situations and circumstances outside of your service provider’s control, like water or fire damage, force of nature occurrences, unauthorised modifications, theft, etc.

In these scenarios it’s a good idea to have a continuity plan in place to minimise system downtime. Don’t rule out asking your service provider for help, but their support times and facilities won’t be bound by the same terms as the rest of your agreement.

3. Response and Resolution Time

Response time is the time taken for the support provider to acknowledge the issue you’ve raised. Resolution time is how long it takes for the issue to be fixed.

Response time is usually defined within the support agreement or SLA, but resolution times can vary depending on the severity and complexity of the issue. Many agreements will have a breakdown of resolution times relating to different levels of issue severity or resolution priority.

4. How Long You’ll Wait

Response time is the time taken for the support provider to acknowledge the issue you’ve raised.

Resolution time is how long it takes for the issue to be fixed.

Response time is usually defined within the support agreement or SLA, but resolution times can vary depending on the severity and complexity of the issue. Many agreements will have a breakdown of resolution times relating to different levels of issue severity or resolution priority.

5. What You Have to Do

Check for responsibilities or conditions you have to fulfil to keep up your side of the contract – are you ok with them? They may include things like:

  • Payment schedule
  • System problems you may need to fix before the contract comes into effect
  • Getting approval from the IT support provider before making changes to your system
  • Having a designated person in your team responsible for liaising with the provider
  • Meeting minimum standards for security/ continuity (anti-virus, or reliable power supply etc.)

5. What it Costs

Price is the bottom line – knowing exactly what you are paying for is vital. How is the support price calculated – per incident or per day? Do you have a fixed bill each month, or pay-as-you-go credits?

If support is supplied via a credits system then check for details of how many credits you get, how long are the valid for and how much time or support each credit grants.

Check for hidden costs, like excess charges for special circumstances or additional specialist personnel. Are these costs agreed in advance or on a case-by-case basis?

How do I know which IT Support Contract is best?

Remember that the agreement/contract is there to protect both parties involved. It’s always best agreed in advance so that terms of service are laid out before any difficulties arise. Don’t be put off by a provider wanting to agree all these details up front – it demonstrates that they’re organised and professional.

Given the variety that agreements can come in, it’s important to just make sure you check over all terms and conditions and make sure you’re happy with them. Good providers will understand the need for custom requirements and should be happy to discuss any queries you have.

Thorough agreements can cover most hypothetical scenarios, but remember that it’s just as important to feel the company themselves are trustworthy and reliable. The best way to find that out is to start talking to service providers, see the services they offer and speak to the clients they already provide such services to.

While you’re here why not start with us?

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