The Scottish Courts have given an interesting decision in relation to IT contracts, relating to the allocation of delivery risk between supplier and customer and the importance of doing what it says in the contract.
In David MacBrayne Limited v Atos IT Services (UK) Limited (2018), Atos, a supplier, had entered into an agreement with David MacBrayne Limited to supply a digital platform. The engagement was not successful and the parties claimed and counter-claimed against each other for material breach of the contract (amongst other things).
Customer Dependencies – Whose Responsibility is Delivery?
IT contracts will often include dependencies on customers to provide the supplier with information/documentation, some negotiated more than others.
In this case, the dependency was on the customer to use all reasonable endeavours to provide such documentation, data and/or information that the supplier reasonably requested and which was necessary to perform its obligations under the contract.
The question was whether this obliged the customer to provide the supplier with detailed specifications of their requirements in sufficient time to allow the supplier to comply with their obligations under the contract. In other words, to what extent should the customer be pro-active in telling the supplier what to do and thereby share delivery risk.
The Court said such general obligations are indicative of a responsive obligation (i.e. respond to queries from the supplier) as opposed to an obligation on the customer to be proactive in setting out their requirements. The Court said such obligations did not displace the obligation of the supplier to be primarily responsible for ascertaining the requirements for the service.
When negotiating IT transactions, it is very important to carefully consider (and negotiate) the scope of dependencies. While this decision points to a pragmatic approach by the courts which favours the customer, the very existence of general (or worse, unclear) dependencies can lead to disputes becoming more protracted and costly than they need to be.
Delay – Managing The Fall Out
The contract required the supplier to provide notice and follow a particular procedure in order to deal with delays. Here that process wasn’t followed. The supplier said it instead opted for a ‘co-operative and facilitative approach’ rather than ‘reaching for the contract’.
The Court said that the supplier was in breach for not following the procedure and this did not assist the supplier in its defence of the claim for material breach for delay. Ultimately, damages were awarded against it.
The judgment of the Court in this case highlights the inherent danger of choosing to ignore the procedural requirements in a contract; it will make claims all the more difficult to successfully prove or defend. The more removed from the letter of the contract the parties conduct is, the more uncertain their legal positions. It is essential to properly manage contracts.