4 Keys to Effective SLA Project Management
Part 2 of 10 in our Complete Guide to Secure Remote Access in Retail.
Point-of-sale (POS) systems require significant support from network administration to simplify troubleshooting for devices. To manage that, it requires a team effort between retail organizations and any vendors involved in POS system management. So, how do you maintain streamlined, efficient processes across all stakeholders? One IT management best practice is to implement service level agreements (SLAs).
These agreements help organizations and their vendors stay accountable and enhance performance at every level. To do this effectively, SLAs typically lay out a plan for specific metrics, service levels, and responsibilities that can help to prevent bigger problems later. They also facilitate better collaboration and lines of communication, especially when issues arise and there is a need for a prompt resolution to network problems.
There are many variables that can be included in an SLA management system, so we’ve compiled a few of the essential components to enhance your SLAs and ensure total security when working with vendors.
What is an SLA?
In short, an SLA is an agreement between two parties that are collaborating on a project, task, device, or network. Typically, SLAs guide a partnership between separate organizations, but can also be used across different departments of the same company. SLA project management is a great way to ensure that objectives for all parties are aligned and streamlined, while offering the potential to pivot when necessary.
Depending on the organization, SLAs may include service expectations, levels of service, tools and applications to be used, quality, and security protocols. There may also be processes for how to enforce the SLA and potential penalties for unmet objectives.
Detailed metrics are at the core of effective SLA project management, thus it’s important to have options for recording relevant metrics. Some of these metrics may include:
- Tiers of service based on severity levels
- Service roles based on severity of service
- Response times
- Key performance indicators (KPIs)
Additionally, SLAs clearly define objectives, roles, stakeholders, and timelines for various events.
The Importance of Having an SLA Management System for POS
Not having an SLA leaves an organization and vendors without a roadmap for how to effectively address inevitable network and device problems. This is particularly important with POS systems because they help manage the vast network of commerce-related actions that occur in retail environments.
Proper SLA project management has the following high-level benefits:
- Keeps both organizations and vendors accountable for aspects of a well-running network
- Aligns objectives between all stakeholders to avoid miscommunication and service gaps
- Supports organization and vendor sustainability, efficiency, quality, and budgets
- Streamlines implementation of new tools, processes, and personnel
- Help plan for future needs such as application tools, labor needs, and network needs.
With these benefits in mind, let’s take a look at four key components to develop a comprehensive SLA:
1. Define Service Support Levels
When it comes to managing a network, and doing it in partnership with vendors, it’s important to establish levels of support. These will include specific events and who will address them to ensure that response and resolution is expedited at every level.
Many of the events that occur are related to device, network, and/or application performance, and require significant logging capabilities to record the necessary information. This is where relying on secure remote access tools can be useful, as they can be set to record the most pertinent information for relevant stakeholders, including those related to network security.
Defining severity levels for events is one of the best ways to establish a strong SLA management system. Using metrics and KPIs (such as call type, call frequency, network issues) will help define the severity of certain events. With this information, the following goals and expectations can be developed:
- Appropriate response times and resolution times for service desk technicians
- Service quality expectations
- How issues are addressed: remotely or in-person
Once severity levels are defined, each stakeholder has clarity on their responsibilities, which may prevent communication breakdown, conflict, and potential network or device failures. It also aligns the organization’s goals with relevant POS vendors, or any other parties included in the SLA.
2. Decide Who is Responsible
Imagine a scenario where a store clerk encounters a POS problem. When this occurs, issues may arise over how it gets reported and resolved. Does the clerk make a call? A manager? And who is responsible for taking that call and resolving the issue? Is it part of in-store operations, or vendor responsibility?
These are the types of questions that need to be addressed when creating an SLA management system. While it might seem simple enough (one person makes a call and service desk techs assist), there are many nuances that can change the way a problem is addressed.
Responsibility is determined, in part, by the severity of the event. As stated in the previous section, part of developing an SLA is clearly defining the tiers, or levels of severity. Once those are established, a process can be created for addressing each type of problem.
A large part of the process is who is responsible. Definitive roles will help address events in a structured, consistent manner. In the store clerk example above, it’s important for the SLA between the organization and their vendors to define who does the following:
- Initial reporting of the event (store manager, clerk?)
- Where calls are directed
- Who receives the calls
- Define which IT personnel handles each tier of support
- What type of remote access is granted and what remote access tools are in place
- When on-site assistance is necessary and who goes to troubleshoot
There are many more definitions that can be established, but each SLA will be unique to the stakeholders involved.
One way to streamline this process is to have a reliable, safe remote access solution to support SLA project management. With remote access, service desk techs can solve problems from a distance, eliminating the time and money that goes into sending a person to help troubleshoot. Some of the benefits of having remote support are:
- Quickly diagnose POS problems
- Identify error codes so clerks and attendants don’t have to
- Identify the hardware being affected
- Secure screen sharing to collaborate with people that are on-site, if needed
- Remote troubleshooting can occur while operations continue on other machines
- Detailed logs of all events for future reference and auditing
With secure remote support and clearly defined roles, SLA project management is likely to be far more successful.
3. Define and Identify Metrics and How They Are Reported
A key component of SLAs is metrics. They help determine objectives, goals, and budgets for all stakeholders, in addition to the roles and severity levels we’ve previously discussed. Metrics can be set for just about anything but can also be overwhelming. So, it’s important that SLAs define which metrics are going to be recorded and followed by all parties.
Additionally, metrics help align vendor responsibility with customer outcomes. If a customer is working with a POS vendor, they will expect a certain level of service when issues arise. These expectations ensure that the organization is meeting their own service and budgetary needs to keep business running smoothly.
For example, SLA project management might define the amount of time it takes for a service desk ticket to be addressed. Having this laid out in an SLA keeps expectations clear for service desk techs and other personnel that may be involved in the resolution. If metrics report that reaction and resolutions times are different than what’s initially in the SLA, there may be an opportunity for stakeholders to adjust the key performance indicators (KPIs).
One way to make sure that all parties are receiving the most comprehensive metrics is to use remote support. With remote support, logs can be set to record all events, which users were involved, when issues were reported, validated, and resolved, and any relevant POS information that may pertain to problems.
4. Align Cybersecurity Protocol and Tools to Prevent Attacks
Remote support is particularly important when it comes to cybersecurity issues because it can track events occurring that may be contributing to additional issues and help identify them to prevent further problems. Vendor security risk management is highly important, especially in a global economy where numerous devices and users are using a network.
Anytime an organization relies on vendors for additional services and devices, there is a larger attack surface for malicious intent. Since vendors do not always adhere to the same level of security that an organization may, it’s common for attackers to gain access through a vendor’s system. This is why it’s so important to clearly define cybersecurity protocols in SLA management systems.
One of the issues that organizations want to consider when partnering with POS vendors and defining SLA project management, is compliance, especially if they are a global operation. Regulatory bodies across the world maintain standards that retail organizations have to follow, but if the vendor does not follow those, it may put a business at risk for violations.
To address compliance issues, vendors and organizations can use remote support solutions that offer total compliance, no matter where POS systems are in operation. This is particularly important for standards related to retail cybersecurity, like adhering to GDPR and PCI DSS.
If an organization is partnering with a managed security service provider (MSSP) or VAR, it’s especially important to make sure there are secure remote solutions in place to protect all parties. Some of the key things to be aware of are:
- Patch management
- Privileged access management (PAM)
- Device compatibility
- Remote access tools being used (one tool or many)
Addressing cybersecurity concerns in an SLA management system is an effective way to prevent cyberthreats from infiltrating the networks of stakeholders by aligning security tools and protocols.
Consolidated Remote Support Tools Offer More Security
When creating an SLA management system, you’ll consider all the factors above, and likely many more. But one of the most important aspects, as it pertains to POS systems and retailers, is protecting your network from cyberthreats and attacks.
It’s common for vendors and organizations to rely on numerous tools to manage remote access and support, but with Netop Remote Control, you only need one. A consolidated tool that offers all the services listed above eliminates the need to pay for and manage multiple systems, which means greater security, more efficiency, and reduced costs. To learn more about how Netop can support your SLA project management, sign up for a free trial today!
Sam Heiney is the Product Manager for Netop Remote Control.