Are you developing software or doing year 2000 work for your customers? You are! Have you got a good solicitor? If not, start asking your friends if they know any - you might need one soon.
The year 2000 is still a big opportunity for resellers. Plenty of companies still haven't sorted out their problems and will need help. But you do need to be careful - especially if you are getting involved with software - because something that might look like a golden opportunity could turn into a poisoned chalice if it is taken on without careful consideration.
Millennium projects are tempting because customers need to act immediately - they can't afford to wait and haggle over price. They can also be a route into new accounts and will keep staff busy until next year, when IT buyers start picking up on the projects that have been deferred until the year 2000 is out of the way.
But you must go into these deals with your eyes open. Every supplier has disputes with customers from time to time. They don't always turn into legal battles but sometimes they do - which doesn't mean the supplier is in the wrong.
If there has been a problem, a good supplier will acknowledge it, make amends or settle it without the lawyers. Most of the time, we'll never even hear about it and it will certainly never get as far as litigation. A good supplier will only go that far if it feels it acted fairly, has a good case and the relationship with the customer can't be salvaged. And if the supplier has simply broken the contract, then fair enough - customers ought to take them to court and get recompense.
When things get legal, the problem is usually software. Corporate users in particular are more wary of the position they are getting themselves into when they contract companies to develop systems.
The IT director of a Times Top 100 company told me last week that he had recently attended a talk on the practice of 'stiffing'. This involves setting up software or licensing deals that will catch customers out and force them to pay vast sums of money for breaking the contract. This particular session was well attended - senior IT managers are clearly concerned about the issue.
There have also been cases where users have sued software developers for not doing the job properly. In one case, according to one corporate reseller I spoke to, the freelance consultant who suggested the client sue the developer had actually worked on the contract for the developer in the first place.
Users are becoming more wary of errant software suppliers and more willing to take legal action. Resellers will need to be very professional in their approach and make sure they get the terms of the deal pinned down in no uncertain terms.
Unless it is made very clear what the software - and the supplier - will and will not do, both parties are skating on thin ice.
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