Contracts: read the bigprint

Excuse me if I blow off a little steam. I’ve just sat for two hours beside a chap on a flight who was editing and translating a PowerPoint presentation – strangely, all about the business of presenting. First, he had to convert the text into German (so I can now tell you that “korpersprache” is the German for “body language”), and second, he had to rearrange the concepts of good presentation into a format more acceptable to the European brain. No small feat this, because by the time he was nearly finished I’d counted no less than 91 PowerPoint slides. Ninety-one! Now I’m quite sure that, like me, you’d dread being trapped in a darkened room and subjected to 91 slides on the subject of showing slides – including an unspeakably tedious sequence on “slumber-busters” – it would be worse than spending three years in prison.

Contracts: read the bigprint

What this wretched fellow (and his English teachers or colleagues) had utterly missed was the wider picture of presentation; namely, the huge gulf that exists between what feels good when you’re writing it and what keeps their attention when they’re half asleep in a stuffy room listening to a disembodied voice reading information that’s already on the screen. How I kept myself from haranguing him to this effect on that flight I’ll never know, but then I realised that all my activities this month have essentially been about the same problem, since it manifests itself in the world of networked services. In a rather spooky bout of synchronicity, all of this month’s effort with clients and with PC Pro forum content has been on this same topic; it’s all been about contracts.

Just like my travelling companion’s nightmarish, ritualised pretence about the “reality” of presenting, there’s now developed a similarly nightmarish, ritualised quality to the business relationships we all enter into at every scale of information technology. We all happily sign contracts for services – anything from broadband internet service provision, to service contracts with software product suppliers, to net-based ASPs running huge farms of thin client compute servers in some distant country – but the only assurance we have that any of these contracts is enforceable is an airy statement to the effect that “it’s all covered under contract law”. I’ve for a long time believed that such assurance is about as solid and as relevant as the notion that anyone is going to pay attention through 91 PowerPoint slides; or that PowerPoint and its clones are a sensible or humane way to deliver information.

Let’s work our way through the influences and processes that persuade any company to buy a service or product from a vendor, to be delivered across its network, and then examine how much use the provisions of contract law actually are in getting what you wanted:

1 – When software products for line-of-business streamlining or workflow first came out, they were largely helpmates for those who could do the work themselves. This was reflected in the development process, put together by a skilled expert in the business procedure who also happened to be a very unskilled programmer, and the pricing that modelled itself on the upfront, shrinkwrap style of Excel, under which a one-off payment of a relatively large sum set you up for a half-decade or more. This scenario may still exist in some very rare cases, but for the most part the current-day descendants of those products are rather more than just helpmates – they can be used by relatively unskilled staff to vastly speed up the throughput of their more skilled, troubleshooting superiors. And this means a business equipped with a package like this can push work through far more rapidly with the software than without it. In some extreme cases, having the software is a precondition for being able to operate in that particular market at all.

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos