I’ve said it time and time again, but it’s always worth repeating: your business VoIP service will only be as good as the networks powering it. No one wants a communications blackout grinding all of your business’ productivity and collaboration to a screeching halt. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world — and imperfect things happen all the time. Regardless of the promises made, networks do experience hiccups and have the potential to completely fail.

This is why customer service is so important in the business VoIP world — it acts as your business’ lifeline if and when things go wrong. But simply subscribing to a provider that advertises “great customer service” isn’t the only way to help protect your communications from blackouts. After all, what good is a promise without something to back it up? Well, that’s exactly where Service Level Agreements (SLA) come into play.

We think that every business relying on VoIP and UC absolutely must engage in an SLA with their provider, and we’ll help you understand why.

What Exactly is An SLA?

SLAs may seem like more VoIP jargon, but they’re actually fairly simple in concept. Now, the agreements themselves might be a bit complex and filled with confusing language, but the core ideas are generally consistent across different examples. SLAs are used to help protect your business’ investment in the solution.

Put very simply, an SLA is a contract that your business will enter with a provider to define exactly what services will be provided, the expected levels of quality of those services, and how your business can measure this performance.

Now, this “service provider” can be of any service from basic internet access, to cable providers, or even VoIP. While ISPs and legacy telecom providers might offer an SLA, the nature of these services aren’t as sensitive as VoIP, which almost necessitates this form of contract. VoIP is known to be sensitive to network interruptions, which can drastically impact the quality of your calls and overall service, but an SLA can help ensure the service remains consistent — or at least provides your business a way to receive compensation if that service level does drop.

SLAs simply define, and set the standard for, the level of service that your business can expect from this provider. At the end of the day, SLAs are designed and implemented to set up a realistic expectation for your business: this document will clearly outline what you will be receiving, and what level of service to expect. In a way, this protects the service provider from false claims of poor service, but can also protect your own business in case service does degrade.

With an agreed upon level of service, you know if you are getting what you paid for. Unfortunately, SLAs are just contracts and cannot strengthen your network, but they are necessary to help protect your investment.

What Do SLAs Even Say?

We understand what an SLA is — a contract that defines the expected level of service. But how exactly does an SLA define what could otherwise be considered an abstract concept? It’s not like we can just go out and measure “VoIP quality” with our “phone call quality meter.” But rather, this is part of the SLAs job as well — to help define how exactly the service will be measured, and at what levels the service will be expected to run. Subscribing to a cloud provider and not entering an SLA is one of the biggest cloud missteps you can make.

Now, how an SLA will define the service — and the specific aspects of the service that are defined — will of course differ on a case-by-case basis. But we want to take a look at what you can expect to see:

  • The time period of service, and what period of service the SLA covers
  • Specific definitions of the services being made available to your business
  • Availability and up time of the services and platform
  • Performance metrics and benchmarks used to compare your business’ service level
  • Costs associated with providing this level of service
  • Application response time
  • Help desk response time for specific problems
  • Usage statistics that will be provided to end user

Again, different metrics and information will apply depending on the service your business is subscribed to. For example, if your business is entering an SLA with their business VoIP or unified communications provider, then the SLA might outline more specific information, including local data centers, acceptable jitter levels, acceptable levels of packet loss, known outage or maintenance times, or an “up time guarantee.” Sometimes, you may even need to call in the FCC to help — but the SLA will help to legitimize your complaint.

How Does This Help My Business?

Now, it might sound as if an SLA is only there to protect the service provider, and that certainly is one aspect of it. But, due to the nature of certain services and platforms, an agreed upon level of service is important for your business as well. After all, how else will you know that you’re getting what you paid for? When it comes to VoIP and UC, this is especially true: SLAs are absolutely crucial.

The reason being, as we know, VoIP is more likely to be subjected to limitations and interruptions simply because it piggy-backs off of existing internet connections. If the network experiences increased volume or requests, this can lead to interrupted phone calls.

At the same time, with hosted and cloud solutions, your business is relying on that service provider to handle all of the heavy lifting. This means all of your data and communications are always “transmitted” through the provider’s own network. If the provider’s network is suffering interruptions, then so might your service.

Protect Your Business, and Your Investment

An SLA provides the protection your business needs to ensure the investment isn’t just wasted on poor service. In fact, this is the reason websites like Speedtest.net and Fast.com exist; they provide end users with a method by which to measure their performance.

If you pay for 50Mbps internet speeds, yet tests only show 40Mbps, then you know the service you are paying for is not being delivered. This directly translates to VoIP, with the SLA simply outlining the tests, parameters, and variations of accepted interruptions.

If your business isn’t receiving the service they need, it could easily rise to a number of other issues:

  • Of course, expected lack of service leads to interrupted phone calls or file transfers for collaboration, and a degradation of your own business’ service quality
  • A development of shadow IT — if business solutions aren’t quite cutting it, teams will be very quick to find and use their own solutions
  • A security nightmare — a rise in shadow IT leads to a rise in possible security breaches

Know What’s In Your SLA

An SLA will only benefit your business if you know exactly what it outlines, details, and states. Never sign an SLA until you read it, because once you sign that SLA, your business is agreeing to the service and accepted levels of service that are defined in that SLA.

At the end of the day, the SLA is almost like an insurance policy — a way to protect your investment and possibly receive compensation if that investment goes wrong. Especially with service, data, and communications hosted in the cloud, the need for an SLA to protect both your business and the service provider has only grown.

If your business is establishing a cloud network and utilizing a platform as a service, then make sure you can enter an SLA with that provider. More importantly, understand exactly what that SLA defines in order to best protect your business’ investments.