Know your rights in IT procurement

Many IT directors are unaware of the legal protection they have when IT projects go wrong, according to legal experts. This is...

Many IT directors are unaware of the legal protection they have when IT projects go wrong, according to legal experts. This is despite the fact that a body of case law has built up which has shifted the balance more firmly in favour of IT buyers.

IT consultants are under a legal obligation to offer their clients sound advice. This protection was enshrined in a legal ruling 12 years ago.

Family firm Stephenson Blake sued IT consultancy Streets Heaver - which had helped it to select an IT system - when it emerged that the system did not behave in the way the customer had anticipated.

The judge ruled that, as a professional adviser working in a specialist field, Streets Heaver had a duty to think ahead for its client and an implied responsibility to explain not only what the system would do, but what it would not do.

The case means that suppliers can be legally liable if they gloss over problems or the less obvious consequences of systems they propose to end-users.

Specialist suppliers must now work within the terms of the Sales of Goods and Services Act by providing systems which do what the customer was told they would do. If the customer has been told that the system will perform a standard function, that function must be provided. If it is not, the supplier will have to pay the costs for making the system work.

Allan Watton, managing director of IT consultancy Best Practice Group, said IT directors should only award contracts to suppliers that claim to be specialists in their field.

Another way to reduce the risk of getting into a dispute about an IT project is to get a supplier to assess a company's needs, according to Richard Mawrey, a barrister with 30 years' experience in IT disputes.

This places an obligation on the supplier to ask questions that the IT department might not have realised needed to be asked before a contract is drawn up.

Read more on IT legislation and regulation

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