Steve Murphy from Irwin Mitchell's litigation team asks education establishments if they are having problems with their IT supplier and says that if you are, they are not alone.
Clients regularly find a noticeable difference between what the sales team promised (a bespoke system) and the reality (off-the-shelf software that is adapted) which can cause problems.
We find that there tend to be particular stages in the life cycle of an IT contract where the same issues arise again and again. In a typical contract this can include the initial liaison with the client’s business team to firm up on specific/bespoke requirements being rushed, configuration and integration with your existing IT estate not going smoothly, the system not being ready to ‘go live’ on schedule, scope creep (according to the IT provider) which results in delay and an increase in price, the system not working properly on ‘go live’ (commonly an integration issue) and inadequate bug fixing and general support with issues going forward.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry, help is at hand. We acknowledge that IT services are often business critical and it is therefore not practical to seek to terminate the agreement. However, there are often inconsistencies in the contractual documentation itself which (i) we can help you identify and (ii) may give you the leverage you need in a negotiation with your supplier to work through the problems, allowing you to get your relationship with the IT supplier back on track. Common points to check for are:
- Is there a disconnect between the specific terms relevant to your services/order and how the standard T&Cs of the supplier incorporate and address those special conditions which leaves some ambiguity or confusion?
- What key performance indicators are contained within the agreement that you can tie the supplier down to?
- Is there something that the supplier is not doing that it is contractually obliged to do even if that is not directly related to the current issue(s) that you are having?
Case Study: recently we acted for an academy trust who were having issues with their IT supplier. In fact they had never received the full functionality of the software as advertised in the marketing brochure and the service levels being provided were not up to scratch. After the customer had chased the supplier for months without progress, we were instructed and were able to escalate the issue and negotiate terms with the supplier for termination of the contract, including a partial refund and co-operation for a data transfer to a new provider, all without recourse to litigation.
Whilst helpful in this scenario, termination is not always a viable option and it is typically not easy to solve all problems in one go, even if the supplier is open to a renegotiation. Especially with long term contracts there may be constant dialogue back and forth addressing problems stage by stage and for best results clients need to manage the contract by keeping a close eye on performance.
We understand that money is tight and that management time is valuable. That’s why we are happy to have an initial phone call free of charge to discuss these IT contract issues by phone with no obligation and, to back that up, we also offer to review your IT contract and give you some initial advice on which parts of the contract that you might be able to exploit in discussions with your supplier for £750 plus VAT (provided the contract is on standard terms and is reasonable in length).
We deal with IT disputes on a regular basis and would be delighted to assist educational establishments in getting the most for their investment in IT infrastructure, software and support services.
If you would like to discuss an issue or would like any more details, please contact Steve Murphy on 07710053097 or Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org.