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Making a Case: Lawsuits Make Failed Projects Worse

By Kim S. Nash
February 12, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Lawsuits often follow failed IT projects. But before choosing to sue, plaintiffs tend to call in professional expert witnesses to paw through the project remains and figure out whether there's a good case, according to Reed Simpson, vice president of Computer/Legal Consultants Inc. in Harrison, Idaho.
Computerworld's Kim S. Nash recently talked with Simpson, a 35-year IT veteran, about how user companies can lose cases before they even get to court.

Q: What happens when you come in, after either the user or the vendor decides to sue?
I have to determine if there's enough blame that can be passed around and whether it can be documented. I have to be able to advise [user companies about] how vulnerable they are.

Q: Vulnerable? How so?
Sometimes, simply because a company doesn't keep records of the dispute as it progresses. In other cases, they are as much to blame as the people they're blaming it on.
When it gets to the point where they think they will sue, then top management is involved and has been told certain things. And most likely, they don't have direct involvement in the project. It's not unusual for me to find out that the people who told top management things are trying to hide the facts and blame the problems on someone else.

Q: What's your best advice on how users can avoid setting themselves up for failure?
No. 1, if you're going to buy a software package, your first objective should be [to] find one that meets as many of your needs as possible - then don't change anything. Given that that's not always practical, if possible, you need to change your way of doing business to match the package. You wouldn't consider buying a new car, then two days later changing the engine or changing the wheels.
The vendors, because they always want to say "No problem," will always agree to change the package to the perceived needs of the [user] company. The company, because it always wants what it's used to, will ask the vendors to make changes. Both are at fault. The minute you cause a vendor to open that package and start making changes, you're in trouble.

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