Your shout! On legal rights when buying from suppliers

In response to Bill Goodwin's report on how IT directors are given rights in court when buying a service from an IT supplier (Computer Weekly, 17 August)

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On legal rights when buying from suppliers

In response to Bill Goodwin's report on how IT directors are given rights in court when buying a service from an IT supplier (Computer Weekly, 17 August)

Has the software development world gone mad? Surely it does not need a legal ruling to establish that software providers are required to deliver something that works? Of course, we all know it is notoriously difficult to establish what customers need, but surely that is part of the service - to guide them to the correct solution.

Judging from the number of spectacular failures we read about in the press, I can only assume that some companies do not believe that delivering the correct product is the way to do business.

Dave Knight, managing director, Igence

On why public sector IT projects fail

In response to Julia Isaak (Letters, 17 August), who said public sector IT departments will always struggle to be as efficient as private sector counterparts because they are cushioned from commercial pressures

Julia Isaak's letter on public versus private sector IT efficiency read like an extract from an economic textbook and demonstrates a naive view of the private sector.

To pick up on her final point, that in the public sector "rewards go to those who advance the vested interest of politicians" and in the private sector they go to "those who advance the interests of the public", this implies that the only rewards that can motivate are financial.

I work in public sector IT and have done for more than 15 years. One of my rewards is the job satisfaction of knowing that what I do results in some social good. There have been times when I could have been earning more in the private sector, but money was not sufficient motivation to move. I am sure I am not alone among public sector workers in this respect.

Private sector companies are motivated by their own profit margins and any benefit to the public is incidental. It is not hard to find examples of companies acting against the interests of the public. For all their undoubted flaws and vested interests, the politicians who set the public sector IT agenda are as accountable to the public than any board of directors.

As to the impetus for public sector IT, I would suggest Isaak reads the Gershon Report. This makes it clear that IT is streamlining the delivery of services, cutting transaction costs, reducing paperwork and helping the government use tax money more efficiently. This is a different impetus from profit, but a no less important one.

Iain Forsyth, IT project manager, Housing Corporation

On how suppliers should understand the business

In response to a survey by Sage in which 32% of IT directors claimed they had been sold the wrong product by a supplier and that suppliers gave poor customer service (Computer Weekly, 3 August)

It is alarming to see that 40% of executives from small and medium-sized businesses say they have wasted money on IT investment.

If SMEs are keen to see a return on their IT investment and want to avoid being stuck with the wrong technology, they need to fully understand how the product they are buying delivers the service they are looking to fulfil. This information is usually difficult to ascertain from a product brochure and keen salesperson.

Companies are advised to select a supplier with whom they can build a working relationship. A service level agreement ensures the customer remains confident their IT supplier is focusing on service, rather than providing the wrong technology for the highest profit margins.

Moreover, suppliers must demonstrate an understanding of the business needs of their customer base to ensure they provide suitable and cost-effective solutions. By doing this, the in-house IT resource is able to focus on its core business applications.

Call it mission-critical or core competency, but companies need to focus on what they do best.

Avner Peleg, product and services director, hSo

Delaying Windows SP2 will only bring problems

Calls for users to delay their upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 2 (Computer Weekly, 17 August) raises the question about why businesses seem reluctant to upgrade their operating systems.

Aside from the usual hesitation to change, this stems from the unrealistic perception that migrating large numbers of users is a hugely complex process. Automated tools from third parties can help make the transition from Windows NT to XP an overnight project, without disruption to the workforce.

A common concern is that users will be uncomfortable with a new operating system, but the use of PC migration tools to transfer individual settings, such as customised wallpapers, file structures or favourites, can alleviate this.

Businesses that fail to migrate by the end of 2006 are likely to face difficulties with incompatibility of software applications, as well as frustrated calls to IT helpdesk staff. More importantly, non-migration could pose a huge threat to business security. Dangers such as exposure of data, vulnerability to attack and data loss could shut down firms for days.

There is no good reason for companies to avoid migration. If the SQL Slammer worm of 2002 was estimated to have cost £66m despite a security patch being available, infection of 58 million unprotected PCs in 2006 could be disastrous.

Paul Butler, principal consultant, Altiris

Base e-government sites on users' needs

Moving public services to a one-stop website such as the National E-Market would be a timely and wise move by the government. However, the key is getting citizens to use and trust the site, and this can be achieved by designing the website with the end-user's need at the forefront. To that end, there are two critical factors that will need to be addressed from the start.

First, the look and feel of the site must reflect the services it features. Second, the data on the site needs to be updated and maintained with the latest information. Citizens will not return to a site that is stale, difficult to manoeuvre or one that provides incorrect details.

Implementing e-services is dependent on building trust in websites, rather than relying on call centres to provide information. A clear, easy-to-use site which encompasses all available services will push the public to look to the web as their first point of reference.

Previous e-government sites have had poor take-up. Using knowledge gleaned from earlier e-government initiatives will help create a reliable online tool that citizens will actually find useful.

Terry Robinson, public sector manager, Macromedia Government

SLAs do not guarantee a good relationship

No one is going to argue with Jimmy Desai that a service level agreement requires a clear definition of responsibility to be effective (Computer Weekly, 10 August). However, this is no guarantee for a successful supplier/customer relationship.

Most IT projects fail because the different parties cannot agree who is responsible. An application's "black box" means it is unclear within whose remit the problem lies and typically there are days of damaging recrimination and finger-pointing before it is identified.

If firms could isolate and resolve issues when they arose, SLAs would become the bedrock of a constructive relationship, rather than a continual source of disagreement.

Matt Price, director, marketing and alliances, Wily Technology

Compliance is a company-wide issue

Further to Tim Jennings article about looking at the bigger picture for data compliance (Computer Weekly, 17 August), I agree that a data management strategy is important, but would stress that application technology is just one element in a wider corporate governance framework. Using such technologies in isolation would not guarantee compliance.

However, many suppliers will suggest that their product will be able to solve any compliance issues and some claim their product has been certified by regulating bodies. Regulations will only be met when the technology and the processes used by a company to gain compliance are managed conscientiously, with attention to corporate governance.

A company can employ secure storage devices and traditional archiving procedures. Storage and content management software are important players, but cannot win the match single-handedly.

Correy Voo, head of business technology solutions, BT Global Services

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