Separation and divorce are never easy, especially when one side knows that its role will be immediately replaced by someone else. Too often, at end of a services-based ICT relationship, parties fail to focus on what's really important: continuity and effective transition.

There is a better way. If customer and service provider implement a few core principles, they can construct a better set of arrangements to manage relationship exit and service handover.

The most common issues in an exit situation are:

  • Failing to plan properly, and assuming that the parties will agree how to exit at the time when it's needed.
  • A customer expecting something for nothing and believing that the key services required to effect an exit transition have already been paid for during the term.
  • The parties failing to build a firewall around exit discussions and using exit as a weapon in an on-going dispute over termination.

It may not be possible to wave a magic wand and make all exit issues disappear, but it is possible to take a more proactive approach to exit services handover by making small but significant changes in the exit planning process.

Improve the Payment Model. The charging model for exit services should be much more transparent and clearly distinguish between exit-related services that are separately payable and the deliverables included in the base charges. Unless expressly stipulated as cost-inclusive, all required services or deliverables should be separately payable and subject to a quotation and approval process.

Alignment between an Exit and Transition. The incumbent provider's exit plan is only half the battle. The exit plan must align with the new provider's transition plan. Both plans should be shared and openly discussed. The aim of all parties should be to identify possible gaps and work out how such gaps can be closed.

Testing Exit Readiness. The commonest failing in exit is agreeing to have an outline exit plan but then never translating this from "outline" to "actual". On a yearly basis, the service provider should be required to certify to the customer in writing that the current version of the exit plan fully reflects any changes in the services; and that an exit from the service provider and transfer of the ability to perform services to the customer and/or competent replacement provider can be efficiently conducted via the exit plan, subject to the exit plan being updated where required with information to be obtained from the customer and/or replacement provider.

Risk Management. Risk management best practices often lapse when faced with an exit situation. The service provider should maintain an exit-related risk register covering any non-trivial risk that may adversely affect the ability of the parties jointly to execute the exit plan. The parties should jointly own the agreed mitigation initiatives, which should include a time schedule and, if relevant, a price proposal.

Adjustment of Pricing. Customers should be more proactive and cut service providers some slack in terms of appropriate relief from service requirements. Equally, providers ought to be more open to a graduated service transition in certain circumstances.

Governance. It's vital to set the right governance forums to manage an exit. Customers should be more hands-on and prepared to own the exit process. One positive step would be to consider appointing an independent ombudsman to ensure rapid and effective resolution of exit-related issues.

Any services exit process ought not to be controversial. The parties may disagree about the underlying cause of the exit but they should separate any contractual disputes from the need to make sure that the exit process runs smoothly.