One neck to choke

Contracts are written to protect the people who write them: accept a big supplier contract and you render yourself essentially powerless in the relationship.

Do you know about the lawsuit against God filed by Nebraska Democratic State Senator Ernie Chambers? He's not going after the churches, arguing instead "that defendant, being omnipresent, is personally present in Douglas County." The news report I read didn't say who he served the papers on or whether the court might accept God's omniscience in lieu of proof of service, but my guess is that any of the churches representing themselves as God's representatives would be obligated first to accept document service, and second to honor any consequent court orders.

Now you may think his chances in court are slim, but here's a bet: they're better than those faced by people who try to sue big suppliers after selling their organizations on a "one neck to choke" policy -an idea normally sold to risk averse senior executives as a means of ensuring that IT can reject bids from companies or individuals it doesn't want to work with.

Ever read a Microsoft consulting contract? Read carefully: on net, it says they're responsible for billing you.

How about a Microsoft EULA/warranty? these give them rights over your equipment, your premises, your data, and your employees - but all they're responsible for is a replacement DVD or download if (and only if) you can prove that the original was defective before you opened the package or unpacked the file.

IBM's Global Services contracts are a lot better: these not only compel them to bill you but frequently spell your name right too - particularly in the paragraphs making them responsible for keeping billable time records and you responsible for everything that goes wrong with the project.

But "one neck to choke" should pay off in the vendor relationship anyway, right? Ok, lets imagine that you invested in international consulting expertise to get your world wide SAP implementation working, but now it's sending invoices for rolled steel to your grocery customers and shipping truck loads of canned tomatoes to Miss Jill's Consular Havens Daycare - in Seville? or how about imagining that you bought a whole fleet of shiny new PCs running Vista with the latest Office, SQL-Server, and other fine Microsoft products selected and put in by those nice young men from Microsoft, but now you're losing lots of employee time, and Word files, to undiagnozed client-server interactions?

Either way, these problems aren't especially rare - meaning that they're more a consequence of how the software is designed and implemented than of anything unique to you - but do you think you can recover on lost revenues or market position from the vendor? Not likely; in fact the truth is that you'll have a better chance of serious compensation if you characterize your problems as acts of God and go after a local church congregation.

So what's the bottom line? That contracts are written to protect the people who write them: accept a big supplier contract and you render yourself essentially powerless in the relationship - meaning that if anyone in your organization advocates the single neck to choke myth, you should ask why, because the only neck you're going to be choking if you buy into it, is your own.

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