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IT contracts: Handling the handoff

Making a good first impression is vital for any business relationship. The stakes are particularly high, however, when the meeting place is a government program that requires 24/7/365 coverage. Mission disruptions are not an option, and systems can't go dark for a holiday-weekend transition. Picking up the reins and moving forward without any downtime is critical -- for federal customers and government contractors alike.

When an agency decides to make a transition from one contract to another, the government expects the new contractor to understand its environment to minimize risk. Contractors must ensure that customers can continue to meet their mission requirements without any degradation. Although it might never be possible to make a completely seamless transition from one company to another, it is up to the firm entering the contract to make the process as smooth as possible.

Of course, it is a two-way process. In the military, it is known as a relief in place/transfer of authority. This is how U.S. military forces work overseas: As one unit is departing, it transitions its authority and responsibilities to the incoming unit. There are responsibilities that the outgoing unit must fulfill to ensure a smooth transition -- and even more preparatory work that the incoming unit/company must do.

Planning, planning and more planning

On larger contracts, the government typically stipulates a 30- to 90-day transition period. When companies show up for the transition, they must know exactly what they are going to be doing for that period of time and have their employees ready for the job. There is also a degree of knowledge transfer as both incoming and outgoing contractors discuss staffing the job and understanding the customer and its mission.

For the incoming contractor, it is important to have a reporting structure with roles, responsibilities and authorities clearly articulated. A defined Responsible, Accountable, Support, Consulted and Informed matrix ensures that all incoming employees know who has authority, accountability and visibility for each transition task.

Vetting the process and plans in advance is also critical. Agencies will want to ask potential contractors:

  1. How they use best practices as part of their transition strategy.
  2. How they ensure successful knowledge transfer.
  3. How they plan to handle the possibility of a compressed transition period. For example, can the company tap its headquarters for surge capacity if needed?

Experienced contractors conduct intense upfront, pre-award transition preparation so that once the award is made and the government sets a contract kickoff date, their transition plans are already in place. Those plans must be flexible enough to compensate for any delays caused by protests to the contract award, which can push back the transition kickoff but not necessarily the launch date for the project.

It's all about that first impression

First impressions are the key for firms transitioning into a contract. It is critical for the government customer's services to be delivered from Day One of the contract.

Larger and more complex contracts require more diligence from companies to ensure they go through all the necessary steps and checklists. There cannot be any missteps. The incoming contractor must know what it needs to do every day of the transition period so that when the contract is awarded, the team is fully responsible and prepared for it.

After all, services and solutions must be delivered quickly so everyone's attention can stay focused on the mission at hand.

About the Author

Ron Bouchard is deputy general manager of the Global Services Sector and general manager of DOD Enterprise Services at NCI.

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