Whenever companies merge or acquire other organizations, knowledge transfer is a common strategy. One example of how knowledge transfer works is in manufacturing.

Let's say that a US company wants to locate some of its manufacturing in Japan to be closer to the Japanese market. The company acquires a small company in Japan, but the company lacks know-how in the parent company's technology or product.

The parent company wants its acquired company to take over manufacturing for the Japanese market, so it develops engineering documentation, manufacturing build and test instructions, etc., and it identifies training that workers at the smaller Japanese company will need so they can be self-sufficient in manufacturing. In the process, workers at the acquired company develop valuable skills they didn't have before.

But can IT also use such a knowledge transfer strategy to address some of its skills shortfalls?

The answer is yes, IT managers can do this--if they learn to work with their vendors on knowledge transfer strategies instead of just going to vendors for standard training and support.

Here are some pointers for making such knowledge transfer work.

Hiring kit: IT vendor manager


Establishing and maintaining a strategically beneficial relationship with third-party vendors is essential to the success of any business operation--and the IT vendor manager plays a vital role in building those relationships. This hiring kit will help you find IT vendor manager candidates who can maximize the benefits of your vendor partnerships. Free for Tech Pro Research subscribers.

1: Understand what knowledge transfer is

Knowledge transfer is not a three-day seminar or even a three-week certification course on a new technology you send your staff to. The objective of knowledge transfer is to learn a new technology so well that you have enough self sufficiency with it to handle your own projects without help.

2: Talk to your vendors about knowledge transfer

Most vendors provide standard training, seminars, and possibly certification options--but no knowledge transfer. If you want knowledge transfer, you should be prepared to spend for onsite vendor resources and personalized tutelage for your staff--with the goal of enabling them to achieve self mastery skills that go far beyond what standard vendor training programs offer.

Some vendors are willing to enter into a knowledge transfer program, but not all are. The other catch is your own management's commitment to knowledge transfer.

Knowledge transfer is going to cost more than standard training or support. It is also going to potentially affect project timelines because staff members will need extra time to get up to speed with enough skills to be self sufficient in their project work. You need your management's full support before you attempt knowledge transfer.

3: Identify the skills your staff must gain

Which skills are needed for your staff to master a new technology? Is it knowledge on how to define a database schema? Or how to configure a network router for maximum quality of service? Or how to use a new programming language to program a robot?

If you can identify the specific skills your staff needs to master--and the skills gaps your staff has and that you need to plug--you will be more successful in your knowledge transfer efforts.

4: Identify a project that does not have a strict timeline, one you can perform the knowledge transfer on

Knowledge transfer doesn't happen until your staff can actually complete a working project with the skills and knowledge being transferred. To do this, staff will probably have to work shoulder to shoulder with experts and mentors from your vendor/partner. A vendor expert might start a piece of a project, but they'll turn the work over to one of your staff members, whom the vendor will mentor and supervise so that the project work is done correctly.

5: Do the next project alone

Knowledge transfer isn't successful until your staff can fly solo on a similar follow-up project that uses the new technology and handle the project on their own. This is the logical next step after your staff completes its pilot knowledge transfer work on a first project with the vendor.

The payoff

Of course, you don't want to do knowledge transfer with every IT project. But if the technology you are using is new, you're anticipating many years of using it, your staff doesn't know it and your management is behind it--knowledge transfer could deliver many benefits. It should be used more often than it is in IT--where skills gaps and position openings persist, no matter how hard companies try to recruit talent.