Procuring and implementing an ICT system within an organisation can be a stressful task. High profile failures in both the public and private sectors hit the headlines all too often. The National Audit Office's report last month on the £6.2bn NHS IT upgrade in England put many of the challenges firmly in the spotlight.

In the heat of the procurement process it is easy to forget some basic procurement principles. First, it is important to remember that simply buying a load of hardware and software is not a solution in itself. It should form part of a broader business strategy and buy-in from users is critical to the success of any project. Make sure their requirements are fully reflected in the brief to potential suppliers and that the specification is clear and comprehensive. If it isn't in the contract, then the supplier doesn't have to deliver it. In addition, have clear performance measurements and consequence on the supplier if these aren't met.

Go for a tried and tested solution unless there's an unavoidable business case for being an early adopter of new technology. Don't be the failure from which everyone else learns. Do your research, visit reference sites and speak to existing users before you buy.

Don't put yourself at risk by allowing work to start without a signed contract in place. Make sure that the contract addresses intellectual property matters in detail, such as ownership of rights in work created exclusively for your project. If there are critical elements of the system that you might want access to for future maintenance if the supplier goes out of business then try to get that source code put into escrow.

Check that any limits on the supplier's liability in the contract don't prevent you claiming for your losses and that the supplier will be good for the money if you ever have to sue. Procedures for escalating and resolving disputes should be clearly set out and closely followed if trouble does occur. Simply stopping payments and kicking a supplier out without adequate warning could prove costly in time as well as money.

If you don't have the relevant expertise in your organisation, engaging independent consultants is always an option. A fresh pair of eyes can bring clarity to your ICT project and help you realise your vision.

Graeme Moffett is an associate specialising in intellectual property at commercial law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn. 01224 34 3546

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