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Making knowledge transfer work virtually

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The importance of knowledge transfer between outgoing and incoming contractors cannot be overstated. The process is essential to ensuring that new contractors are ready to hit the ground running to provide all services and support to the customer on day one. And while one might think that contract transitions during the COVID-19 pandemic might be more difficult, contractors are finding creative ways to perform the knowledge transfer necessary when transitioning contract work from an incumbent vendor to a new one.

When one contractor takes over work from another, a great deal of physical interaction traditionally takes place, which could take the form of a new contract worker closely following or sitting side-by-side with an incumbent worker to learn the ropes about how work gets done and the day-to-day activities involved in any given job. In cases such as data center relocations, incoming contractors need to tour facilities and obtain site drawings to learn about site layout, cabling, networking and other essential details. Managers taking over a contract from an incumbent may need to hire new employees, onboard employees from the incumbent company and create cohesive and tight-knit teams.

This can done safely and efficiently even during the pandemic by maximizing the use of video-enabled conferencing and a variety of other tools. For example, knowledge transfer within a service desk environment traditionally is performed by an incoming workers sitting next to incumbent workers to learn how to respond to service calls. This type of activity could be difficult during a pandemic.

The same transfer can be performed through staff members accessing the non-production ticketing portion of an IT Service Management tool and the production knowledge management database and mirroring the required support actions of an incumbent agent. To avoid disrupting ongoing support, incoming workers have learned to hold off on questions relayed via chat tools until there was downtime.

For facility-related knowledge transfer such as in a data center environment, contracts can take virtual tours of facilities in cases where that is authorized. When such a virtual tour isn't possible, there are ways to do these walk-throughs using social distancing – even during the construction process. Customers can "virtually" watch new sites being transformed for service delivery without leaving their home offices.

In addition to support over the phone interviews with incumbent staff candidates, contractors can leverage online survey tools as an information source to provide useful insights into the environment and each individual's specific role. In a recent case, this process resulted in the retention of 1,500 incumbent staff for a single program (99% retention).

Managers can schedule virtual get-togethers via Zoom or other tools to allow teams to interact as they would normally do in the hallway or over lunch and to encourage incumbent retention. Traditionally, contractors host face-to-face "get to know you" sessions, often in hotel conference rooms or some other type of public venue. Transitioning this to Zoom has resulted in unexpected advantages, such as enabling leaders to schedule meetings in smaller groups, allowing for closer interaction.

Perhaps most importantly, contractors are rethinking the way they interact with clients. For example, status review meetings with customers that normally run about 30 minutes can be scheduled for an hour or more to make sure they can cover all of the issues they would have traditionally covered when running into the client in the hall or just chatting with them. Managers should also make the effort to call clients every couple of days to ask how things are going.

Ultimately, the key to successful transition during the pandemic relies on management being extremely organized and extra collaborative with customers, incumbent contractors and partner vendors. Although managers may need to factor in more time to their transition schedules to take into account unexpected hurdles presented by the current situation, we can still execute timely and effectives transitions.

About the Author

Dave Barber is vice president, business development, at SAIC.

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