Clients know the situation: IT services were outsourced to an external provider. However, the acceptance of the IT services in the transition phase is not running smoothly. Typical weaknesses are lack of documentation, insufficient personnel resources, missing measuring equipment and, in particular, services that have not been sufficiently tested by the provider in advance.
Weaknesses identified during acceptance usually lead to a delay in acceptance. In the worst case, it is aborted because the functionality of the services cannot be fully proven. If acceptance tests are cancelled or only partially released, additional acceptance tests must be planned. This causes considerable costs for both the client and the provider.
Reasons for an unfinished acceptance are in particular
- clearly defined acceptance criteria before the contract is signed
- the provider underestimates the effort required for acceptance of the services and therefore cannot provide the necessary resources for acceptance
- no adequate configuration management according to ITIL
How can you avoid such situations? In this article I would like to show ways and methods to do so. I will concentrate on essential points that are critical during the acceptance process.
The outsourcing lifecycle consists of the phases strategy, conception, RfP/award of contract, transition and operation. The foundation for a successful acceptance is laid in the RfP phase of the services. From the outset, the framework conditions for the acceptance should be defined, taking into account company-wide guidelines (e.g. quality guidelines), templates and change management specifications. In order to realize this, the general conditions of the acceptance and the responsibilities must be clearly and unambiguously formulated in the tender. Acceptance in the outsourcing life cycle is divided into three work steps:
1. Creation of the test strategy
ITIL defines the test strategy as the overall approach to organizing tests and allocating test resources. In the award phase, the provider creates the test strategy as part of the bidding process in accordance with the specifications of the RfP. The required activities include
- translating the service concept from the service design into test requirements and test models (test plan, test procedures, list of test elements, scripts, etc.)
- definition of the necessary test levels (component test, integration test, etc.)
- definition of the acceptable failure rate for each test level (pass/fail criteria) as well as abort and restart criteria
- coordination of the acceptance procedure
- clarification of responsibilities during acceptance
- definition of the delivery results
- specification of the role requirements during acceptance
The client checks the test strategy for completeness and the traceability of the test requirements back to the service design criteria.
Every company has different attitudes to risk with regard to service quality. This willingness to take risks influences the degree and level of validation and testing. Depending on the risk appetite, the client may require an adjustment of the testing strategy. The aim is that a joint agreement on the acceptance of services is reached between the client and the service provider. The test strategy becomes part of the contract.
If service changes are agreed upon and lead to contract adjustments, the acceptance procedures must be adjusted with appropriate advance notice before acceptance.
2. Notification of readiness of acceptance by the service provider
In order to avoid frictional losses during the acceptance in the transition phase, an acceptance readiness test should be carried out by the client beforehand. This test ensures that all necessary preliminary work to start an acceptance procedure has been completed correctly.
According to the current project plan, the provider reports the readiness for acceptance of the service to the client. The prerequisites for reporting readiness for acceptance should already be defined in the contract. The provider delivers the relevant documentation as agreed in the acceptance procedure specified in the contract.
Depending on the type of service, the documentation includes
- Delivery bills
- Guarantee certificates
- Configuration list(s)
- Network plans
- Executed checklist(s) or test protocols
- Operating Manual
- Training documents
Within the scope of the readiness for acceptance test, the client checks the documentation for completeness and correctness. The client may have several queries to the provider. When these have been clarified, the client confirms the readiness for acceptance. If the delivery is incomplete compared to the specifications, the acceptance readiness is rejected and the service provider is requested to close the open points. Depending on the situation, the readiness for acceptance can be confirmed under the condition that the service provider removes the defects by the start of the acceptance. It is important to allow enough time for the documentation to be checked and a reworking period to eliminate the defects before acceptance.
3. Acceptance by the client and declaration of acceptance
The organization of the acceptance is done by the service provider. He ensures that the infrastructure for the execution of the acceptance is created and that all participants receive the relevant information in time.
In the acceptance procedure, the service provider presents the test procedures defined in the agreed acceptance procedure to the client. Defects resulting from additional, not pre-defined tests may not lead to an acceptance abort, unless the effects of the defects are so serious by their nature or number that the service is significantly impaired.
After acceptance, the service provider must have the opportunity to rectify the defects within a realistic period of time, which is agreed upon jointly at the time of acceptance. The results of the acceptance must be recorded and identified defects must be listed with details of the defect pattern, defect class, further procedure and responsibility.
Acceptance ends with a declaration of acceptance by the client with or without open defects or with an acceptance abort according to contractually defined abort criteria. The service provider undertakes to remedy the defects in due time. It is advisable to contractually set the largest payment milestone to a successful acceptance. Otherwise, the motivation pressure on the provider cannot be maintained.
The structured approach and the applying of this approach, as well as the acceptance criteria in the contract, ensure that the service provider takes a detailed look at the expected expenses. The introduction of the acceptance test ensures that all prerequisites (e.g. configuration management, documentation and preparatory tests by the service provider) for a smooth acceptance are in place. It is important to describe the activities of the acceptance in the project plan and to update them regularly. Furthermore, it is recommended to plan an acceptance in several steps and as early as possible in order to detect defects early on, which will not occur in later partial acceptances. A careful acceptance of services also ensures service quality in the later operating phase.