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Finding Responsibility by Joe Auer

Are you acquiring results or resources? The answer to that question will yield a fifth important, essential “truth” whenever you negotiate a technology deal. About six months ago, I mentioned 10 of these truths, and detailed four of them.

The answer to this “results or resources” question establishes which side will bear responsibility for the results you’re expecting from a deal, and you need that answer before your acquisition process begins. In a “results deal,” the vendor is responsible, while in a “resource deal,” it’s the customer.

For more than 20 years, I have testified as an expert witness in court cases involving customer-vendor disputes, and almost every one revolves around the question of who’s responsible. In most of these cases, contractual responsibility for the success of the deal is unclear or mutual, or the vendor’s form contract has disclaimed any responsibility. The bottom line: If you, as a customer, fall short in a contract of clearly and completely assigning full responsibility for final results to the vendor, you’re responsible.

A results deal. In a results deal, you, the customer, effectively get the supplier to fully accept the risk of failing to produce the solution, or the expected outcomes or results. If the vendor’s representatives talk about “solutions” to your executives or end users, the vendor is held accountable for producing them.

This sounds good, but you can shoot yourself in the foot if you’re not careful putting the deal together. You might say, “OK, we have them committed to results. But we’re going to manage the deal. After all, it’s our money and our project.” Don’t do it! That shifts some responsibility for results to you, and the vendor is off the hook. The vendor must have complete authority to have complete accountability.

Another thing you might say is, “We have them committed to results, but we’re going to tell them the policies, equipment and staffing levels they must use.” This also ruins a results deal. I’ve seen countless vendors avoid accountability because they were “forced” to do things according to their customers’ dictates. The customers got too proscriptive and shared responsibility for the outcomes.

Another important point about a results deal: Make sure your obligation to pay a vendor is triggered only by its producing the agreed-upon results, whether by reaching certain milestones or upon project completion.

If it’s a results deal, why should a vendor’s invoice force you to pay? Why should a set monthly date, the signing of a contract, accepting delivery or anything short of contracted-for results require you to pay? Make sure your money is tied directly to the vendor’s performance. The satisfaction of having a good contract is exceeded only by holding payment until the vendor produces.

A resource deal. In certain instances, there’s nothing wrong with a resource deal, especially if you don’t expect the vendor to produce the final results or outcomes. Maybe you just need some equipment, software or support to help you produce the results. Actually, sometimes you can’t predefine the results, or you may just need some tools to distribute – like 3,000 desktop PCs. Or maybe you need help on a general software development team or ongoing maintenance work and the results aren’t predetermined. These are resource deals. In these deals, you must pay attention and manage the resources, tasks, time frames and progress, because you’re responsible for the results.

The first thing I do when I’m asked to help on a deal gone bad is try to determine whether it’s a results or resource deal. Who has the responsibility for the outcomes? In most deals I look at, the answer is unclear. If that’s the case, you’ll never win a dispute that goes to mediation or court, where you’re trying to blame the vendor for not producing the results or solutions that it so eagerly promised verbally during its sales pitch.


JOE AUER is president of International Computer Negotiations Inc. (www.dobetterdeals.com), a Winter Park, Fla., consultancy that educates users on high-tech procurement. ICN sponsors CAUCUS: The Association of High Tech Acquisition Professionals. Contact him at joea@nulldobetterdeals.com.

Copyright by Computerworld, Inc., 500 Old Connecticut Path, Framingham, MA 01701. Reprinted by permission of Computerworld.

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