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Setting Standards For Service-Level Agreements

The MSP Association program will help with templates for writing SLAs based on the ITIL standard, plus self-assessment surveys to determine where standardization is needed.

The Management Service Provider Association launched a program to help standardize service delivery for monitoring and managing software application, network, and hardware performance. When the association begins delivering portions of its Service Management Quality Initiative in March, the program will include templates for writing service-level agreements based on the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standard, as well as online self-assessment surveys to determine where standardization is needed.

Standards and best practices will go a long way toward alleviating customer concerns that smaller service providers don't offer managed services consistent with larger service providers, such as IBM Global Services and EDS, says Linda Shannon-Hills, MSP Association chairwoman and worldwide service provider partner program manager for Hewlett-Packard OpenView. "We chose ITIL because it's a recognized standard in the IT operations industry," she says. ITIL is a methodology for breaking down the service-management process, the language and the nature of the processes, and how they interact with one another.

Adherence to the Service Management Quality Initiative won't give service providers a specific certification. Rather, the initiative is intended to be a model for managed service providers to follow when explaining their offerings to clients and writing service-level agreements. According to Shannon-Hills, the MSP Association wants customers to be able to accurately compare, across multiple service providers, such aspects as downtime compensation and service-provider accountability.

The ITIL standard has a formal vocabulary. That's particularly important to smaller managed service providers who offer specific services, such as security, help desk, or database support, says Dave Lilly, president and chief operating officer of SiteRock Corp, an MSP. A member of the association's Service Management Quality Initiative committee, Lilly says it's common for customers to use multiple MSPs as an alternative to one large service provider.

Gartner principal analyst Eric Goodness says standards are particularly important for an emerging market such as the one for managed services. Setting and meeting standards help inspire confidence in smaller service providers. Says Goodness, "Just because the largest service providers offer a variety of services doesn't mean they can provide managed services for everyone."

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