As outsourcing gains momentum in the IT space, particularly in mission critical areas such as the database, a service level agreement (SLA) is essential in order to govern the type and frequency of services offered and the acceptable level of downtime, says Gerrit-Jan Albers, service delivery manager at RDB Consulting. 
However, as database environments differ from company to company, it is important to ensure the SLA is customised to “fit” the client’s environment and unique requirements. Furthermore, requirements change and the SLA must also be flexible to accommodate updates and modifications.
Traditionally, SLAs are often “set in stone” for the duration of an outsourcing contract. This can prove to be a fatal flaw, since the database is not a static environment.
In order to continue to leverage maximum value from SLAs, organisations should ensure that they are flexible over the duration of the outsourcing contract, and factor in issues such as depreciation of service costs and changing service levels required over time.
One of the major reasons why a flexible SLA benefits the client is that at the outset of an outsourcing contract, the workload is typically high and requires a number of resources.
However, as the contract matures and the environment is optimised by the outsourcing provider, the workload often decreases when the setup is complete and maintenance is then required which is less resource intensive.
Additional time and resources may be required later on as new projects are undertaken which will require changes to the SLA.
One of the reasons why additional time and resources are required at the beginning of an outsource contract is that the environment usually needs to be stabilised and made compliant. This is due to the fact that many organisations choose to engage with an outsource provider only when they have experienced a crisis with the database which requires urgent attention.
Further driving the need for a flexible SLA is the fact that each organisation is unique and has specific needs. This requires an audit of the environment. It may also take time to fully understand the organisation, its business and the relationship of the database to the company.
Once this is completed, there are processes that should be undertaken to optimise functionality and ensure that the proper methodology is in place to bring databases in line with best practice standards.
Once this process has been completed, it is far easier to manage a stable environment and automated checks can be put into place with proactive monitoring solutions to ensure the continued health of the database.
Monitoring can even be conducted remotely, requiring fewer resources on site. As the levels of service required often tapers off from the beginning of the contract, organisations sometimes pay for unnecessary resources for the majority of their contract period.
SLAs should therefore take this depreciation of service costs over time into account to ensure the client obtains maximum value and cost effectiveness throughout the outsource contract period. These SLAs also need to be flexible enough to enable additional resources to be retained should projects be undertaken which will require more time and skills to complete.
Rather than paying a fixed fee for the entire contract duration, a flexible contract with flexible SLAs enables this service to be tailored according to demand, in effect delivering outsourcing services on tap.
Services can then be scaled according to requirements, delivering maximum value. SLAs should also be reviewed periodically during the contract to ensure that service levels being delivered continue to meet the changing requirements of the organisation.
The database outsource service model is not a “one size fits all” approach and services must be tailored to meet the dynamic individual needs of each client. Likewise, the SLA should align with the needs of the client, the resources required to provide services, and the frequency and type of services required over time.
The SLA should never be a rigid document throughout the lifecycle of a contract. It should rather be flexible to meet changing needs and ensure that the highest levels of service at the most efficient cost are delivered at all times.