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Service-level agreements are a critical part of a unified-communications-as-a-service contract. They should clearly state the conditions of service, such as uptime, mean time to repair and other performance characteristics, and provide buyers with a remedy for non-performance.
Unfortunately, creating solid and enforceable service-level agreements (SLAs) is often a black art. Most UCaaS providers offer boilerplate terms of service that cover usage, options for discontinuing service, payment requirements, privacy and security, and dispute resolution. Providers may guarantee uptime and performance with non-performance credits -- or they may not. Regulatory requirements that apply to PSTN providers may not apply to UCaaS vendors. Customers, especially smaller organizations, may lack the ability to negotiate custom cloud SLAs that meet their needs.
Some companies may welcome boilerplate SLAs from UCaaS providers, especially if they've experienced pain and complexity when negotiating SLAs for WAN technologies. The complexities of WAN SLAs, along with the difficulty of monitoring service disruptions and obtaining credits, has made crafting and enforcing SLAs time consuming, tedious and often not worth the effort.
So how can organizations obtain service-level guarantees that meet their UCaaS needs and provide a remedy for non-performance? Follow these five steps to achieve UC cloud SLA success.
- Read the fine print. Usually, SLAs are publicly available on UCaaS provider websites. Review these SLAs carefully to ensure the provider offers a way to terminate the service for non-performance, and defines what non-performance means. Your legal team should review the SLA -- and demand modification if necessary -- to ensure you aren't taking on any undue risk.
- Compare UC cloud SLAs: Back in 2015, 8x8 Inc. offered the first VoIP SLA that promised four nines availability -- 99.99% -- as well as a minimum mean opinion score (MOS) of 3 on a 1-to-5 scale. Some providers have followed suit with similar guarantees, but most simply offer best-effort service-level guarantees.
- Manage, manage, manage. When implementing UCaaS, you still need to manage the UCaaS provider. At a minimum, you should monitor the reporting the provider makes available to you, such as uptime, voice and video performance, and scheduled outage information. Provider reports may also include detailed information about the performance of the underlying data network that connects you to your provider. According to Nemertes Research, nearly 60% of organizations manage UCaaS through existing network management tools or specialty tools from vendors such as IR, Nectar, Oracle and Unify Square. One-third of organizations rely solely on insights from their vendor. Websites such as downdetector.com are useful tools for insight into service availability as well.
- Address performance and support. Most discussions around UC cloud SLAs focus on performance factors such as uptime, MOS and jitter. But an equally important factor is support and service delivery. Ensure your cloud SLA governs how long it takes to provision services; implement moves, adds, and changes; and update 911 routing databases. In addition, ensure the provider offers guarantees for mean time to repair, mean time to respond and help desk availability. If you can't report an outage because support services are unavailable, you shouldn't be penalized.
- Set the right expectations. Normally, UCaaS tools are not engineered to the level of availability of regulated PSTN services. Not all providers offer or deliver five or six nines availability. Those who do generally note that uptime metrics don't include scheduled outages. The underlying connectivity across public internet services may be unreliable, but performance is usually improved by using software-defined WAN to virtualize traffic across multiple WAN service options. Be sure to have backup plans for the occasional outage.
Successfully establishing UCaaS SLAs requires a bit of work, from evaluating your needs and what providers offer to post-deployment insight into actual performance. Address cloud SLAs early in your UCaaS evaluation and plan to monitor performance to determine if the provider is meeting your needs.