That advice came from Alan Watson, managing director of the Best Practice Group, who reminded the IT Directors' Forum of a court judgement in 1996.
The case of St Albans versus ICL laid down that suppliers have implied obligations to their clients, and that their contracts do not protect them if they are taken on as specialist suppliers. It also established that software is covered by the Sale of Goods Act.
Watson said many IT directors do not appreciate that specialist IT suppliers have a legal duty of reasonable care and skill to put in systems that are fit for purpose.
"Some 60% of disputes are over who is accountable, and for judges and lawyers who do not understand IT, project management means accountability. From a practical point of view the project manager must be the supplier, with the user project manager acting as assistant," he said.
Although most user project managers would object to being assistants, this is the best way to protect projects, he added.
To avoid misunderstandings, it is essential that suppliers take responsibility for understanding how your business operates, said Watson. They should compile the technical specification for the project, identify any areas not taken account of, and be seen as the project manager.