Knowledge Acquisition and Retention
The first step in a transition is for the incoming service provider to obtain a baseline of the enterprise’s existing environment (the “as is” state). The outgoing team may or may not be under contractual obligation to co-operate with the internal team/ the incoming provider in the knowledge transfer process. Therefore, the onus is on the organization or the internal team to facilitate this.
Some steps that can be taken to facilitate a proper knowledge transfer are:
1. Retain key incumbent personnel or incentivize them to stay until the transition is complete to ensure knowledge retention in critical areas.
2. Encourage the use of templates, questionnaires, best practices and checklists to ease the demands of this phase.
To accelerate knowledge acquisition and mitigate the risks in knowledge transfer, a good service provider would do the following:
- Use Knowledge Acquisition templates
- Use checklists to reduce human errors, people dependency and ensure consistency
- Establish best practices and standardize processes
- Identify critical risks (Risk Analysis)
- Shadow key personnel to learn and document job function or tacit knowledge
- Prepare Standard Operating Procedures documentation
- Define acceptance criteria to sign off on knowledge transfer
- To understand current processes, workflows, infrastructure, business and technical complexity, the following is recommended:
- Infrastructure and application maps
- Business primer training or workshops
- Regular dip stick surveys
The knowledge transfer process should also include some checks and
balances, or transition toll gates such as:
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) documentation review
- Work Instruction review and sign-off
- Architecture review and sign-off
The internal team needs to ensure that the knowledge captured is retained within the organization by storing it in a knowledge repository or portal for easy access anytime. An expert service provider would use technology and tools to help with the initial data collection to expedite the transition.
- Governance Model: Good governance and oversight are instrumental to the success of a transition. Service level objectives and goals for each phase of the engagement should be clearly defined in the contractual agreements.
- Organization structure: An organization structure with well-defined roles and responsibilities both at the internal team and provider’s end is necessary. A RACI matrix can be used to clarify these roles and responsibilities and sign-off on the same is necessary.
- Communication plan: An outsourcing engagement is likely to have multiple stakeholders both at the internal team and provider’s end. Timely communication across both horizontal and vertical levels is crucial in a hostile transition, to address issues that may arise during the course of the transition early on.
- Operational stability: Operational stability is an important requirement of service delivery. To ensure a smooth transition, mock drills of critical support elements and training of incoming personnel is necessary.
Once the switch-over to the new provider takes place and a steady state is reached, the sustenance team takes over from the transition team. Stabilizing operations to meet performance and cost targets become the key focus of the sustenance team. Over time, a Service Improvement Plan (SIP) should be devised for Continuous Service Improvement (CSI) to continually improve the effectiveness and efficiency of processes and service delivery.
IT organizations need performance measurement metrics to evaluate service provider performance. For long-term outsourcing engagements, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are used to evaluate and measure provider performance. The Balanced`Score Card, a strategic management performance metric, can be extended to measure the health of the engagement by determining goals and mutually agreed upon success criteria.
Avenues of Automation in Transition and Benefits
Automation can help accelerate the transition process by providing self-help tools to users for faster resolution of issues in areas such as desktop support to reduce dependence on support staff. It is also useful in monitoring the critical health parameters of servers and the network. Automated tools can help reduce the risk of failure at a later stage. Some of the templates and best practices that can accelerate the transition are given below:
- Knowledge Acquisition Process template is a data repository of customer’s setup data. It captures the technical and operational details of each domain
- Handover Checklist/Domain Readiness Template evaluates whether all the criteria for technical readiness are met to deliver the Service Level Agreement (SLA). It ensures availability of required technical and operational data, assigns responsibility for each activity and tracks the handover process and operational readiness..
- Service Assurance Kit is used to deliver services consistently across programs and projects. It houses complete inventory details of the customer setup, required data availability at site, site awareness of the delivery team and responsibility of each member of the support team.
Case in Point:
A premier financial services company in India decided to switch service providers for its end user support requirements across its locations in the country. The new provider was engaged to improve performance of at all levels. However, the transition proved to be a challenging due to factors such as lack of sufficient knowledge of the site context and company’s infrastructure landscape; insufficient cooperation from the incumbent service provider, and lack of planning for critical activities.
Despite these challenges, the new service provider was expected to ensure minimal service disruption from day one. The strategies that were adopted to handle the hostile transition included:
- Deploying a transition team to ensure minimum business disruption
- Separate teams for ownership of transition activities and for service delivery
- Active support from senior personnel on the client and provider side Using these strategies resulted in a smooth transition with negligible impact on end-user operations -
- Established Information Technology Infrastructure Library ITIL based processes, procedures, standard operating procedures and instituted checklists with version control
- Drew up a cost-effective service improvement plan for the sustenance team to implement
- Implemented a new process to track end-user complaints and escalation
- Established a process to manage major incidents
When an enterprise switches service providers to derive better value, the transition from incumbent to incoming provider can become very challenging or even hostile. The first step is in selecting the best-it service provider starting with evaluating if the service provider has the right approach, right set of tools and framework to enable a smooth transition. Further, sufficient checks and balances combined with a well-defined transition plan involving the capture and retention of existing knowledge, good governance mechanisms, and a continuous improvement mind-set, can turn a hostile transition into a smooth one.