Typical Service Level Agreements (SLAs) cover service-level expectations as well as what users are entitled to in the event that an SLA is breached. SLAs also cover what’s defined as “service availability”: how long a read request can take to be serviced before it’s considered outside of compliance with the SLA, or how many retries are allowed.
Not too long ago industry SLAs were at 99% availability. Later they climbed to 99.5% availability. Today the industry standard is to expect nothing less than 99.9%. But can a company really guarantee service availability?
The answer can be found by looking deep into a provider’s network. Peel back the slick marketing façade and you’ll find that traditional service providers use a TDM-based architecture that still needs a great deal of translation between voice and IP services. It’s difficult to imagine how these providers can offer anything close to a guarantee when the non-integrated voice and IP components are running separately over legacy networks and loosely assembled via decades of company acquisitions. If the network is built this way, customers are going to experience call completion and quality issues eroding any financial and operational benefits of a global Cloud Communications service.
When considering Cloud Communications and the guarantee of services, organizations need to look for a provider that offers a network carrying voice, video, and data—all over IP. TDM-based networks are no match for a fabric that integrates voice over an IP network. In addition to this, the winning formula for a guaranteed SLA resides within a company that owns its own global network fabric, one that is purpose-built with IP/MPLS to deliver Ethernet-based applications anywhere around the world. These networks are specifically designed for unified communications, purpose-built to carry voice, video, and data via MPLS over optics. Simply put: if the service provider builds the network especially for video communication, there is a good chance of a guaranteed SLA. As valuable as the network is, it’s still just one element in the process of offering a guaranteed SLA. Companies must also consider the process and people behind the network as well.
Let’s look at process first. When it comes to guaranteeing service, most providers are reactive in nature. They wait until the customer calls to let them know there’s a problem, and only if the service is impacted for more than five minutes will the provider then open up a trouble ticket. If customers call to resolve the problem, many providers will offer a finite menu of choices as possible options. This is no way to treat customers, and offers nothing close to a guaranteed SLA. It’s the upfront network design piece that is critical to help ensure customer satisfaction.
Providers that offer networks designed with end-to-end IP/MPLS services can also put visibility and control right into the customers’ hands via a web-based control panel. This process is also referred to as “network function virtualization.” It’s not a new concept, but it’s becoming uniformly embraced, and with good reason: when providers build their networks to run business applications alongside voice, it’s going to provide clean and simple services. However, even great processes will fall short if the provider does not have the qualified personnel to support them.
To help guarantee SLAs, providers must also make available certified engineers so that customers can receive immediate help. Engineers should be Tier 2 and Tier 3 staff members with frontline screens so there is an easy transition of information if quick problem escalation is needed. Most importantly, engineers need to stay on the call until the issue is resolved. A good way to gauge the possibility of a guaranteed SLA is to look at a provider’s Net Promoter Score (NPS®). The Net Promoter Score is based on customers’ direct feedback and measures their likelihood to recommend a business’s products or services in their respective marketplace. Scores can range from -100 to +100 with scores of 50 and higher considered a “best-in-class” performance level.
So can a company really guarantee service availability for Cloud Communications? Yes, if the company has a purpose-built network and the process and people to back it all up.