In a casual conversation in the office recently, someone asked: “Why are we hiring contractors? They come, learn all our systems and leave with our IP.”
I couldn’t help agreeing – it does seem counterproductive.
Organisations invest in the professional experience and knowledge of these “outsiders”, but when they need to expand on the systems the contractors helped develop, that knowledge is gone.
From that perspective, it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense for organisations to hire contractors rather than permanent staff if they wish to retain and grow organisational knowledge.
But, on reflection, this argument has another side to it – there are also certain benefits to having contractors on a project.
Just as a contractor gains knowledge and experience in one organisation, they bring that to their next assignment – and your company can be the beneficiary in this exchange.
While retaining internal knowledge is important, having someone on the team with recent exposure and understanding of others companies’ systems and processes provides an opportunity to re-evaluate your own.
You get to tap into the IP of other companies in your sector – and sometimes even get a glimpse of how your competitors work.
This could give you insights into different development methodologies or technical and process subject matter expertise.
Bringing a contractor project manager, business analyst, developer or a tester can also enhance your project base knowledge.
An experienced contractor will bring a different perspective to your project, based on their previous experience. They will question why a process is run a certain way, which is also an opportunity to improve your current state.
Of course, you still need close collaboration with those who have been in the company for a while to fully understand the organisational and technical impacts and dependencies.
What goes without saying is the expectation that is set when you take on a contractor for your project. Often they are available at short notice when you need someone to ‘start yesterday’, and they also tend to hit the ground running once they’re on the job – there’s no days-long settling in period that permanent staff often need to go through before they begin work on your project.
So before you decide if you need a permanent or a contractor resource on your project, don’t dismiss the idea of getting a contractor over concerns about retaining IP in your organisation.
Be sure to weigh up the pros and cons of both options before making that call.
Marina van Wyk is a Senior Business Analyst with 10 years’ experience in software development projects. She offers insights from her involvement in various IT projects at Telecom, Vodafone, Auckland Council, Vero Insurance and others.