Saturday, October 31, 2009

Non Disclosure Agreements

In not so distant a past, I had an interesting set of meetings with four of the top 10 global IT vendors and consultants who were bidding for a large engagement. Without exception, each party wanted the deal badly enough, considering the scope of work and the market expansion it may create. However, at the end of the evaluation process, I was feeling really nervous, not about the project, but about client confidentiality and what it means.

In the early part of the century after the recession brought about by dot-burst and 9/11, the IT industry had a lot going well for them. Many traditional industries started outsourcing and offshoring, and in one case, an inadvertent mention of a client name in a small newspaper column resulted in a written apology from the vendor CEO to the client PMO and VMO. It also resulted in a reduction in future business prospects.

Fast forward to the present, where vendors do not put in the customer name in presentations, but the words and context gives away the customer to anyone who can use a bit of market intelligence. This is obviously to protect the customer identity. So you may get referred to as “Top 3 FMCG company in India”, “Global 5 retailer” or “Large merchant banker in UK”. The case study that follows almost gives away the name, but still leaves a little room for guess work.

Going back to the incident, all the above mentioned safeguards were present, and guess what! Without exception, each presenter mentioned the customer names, stating that it was confidential. Talk about various non disclosure agreements that lawyers may have spent months preparing! Or warnings given by the CIO, PM or the business head!

Are NDAs worth even the paper they are printed on ? And in India, they are indeed printed on non-judicial stamp paper. When I asked some of them on this “slip”, there were no convincing answers. I’m not sure if there are any measures that you can take to address this situation.
Have you seen similar behavior? How do you protect your and your company’s interest in such a scenario? I would be very skeptical in doing business with such vendors, especially if it was something that brings competitive advantage in the mid-term.

This post was written for TechTarget.In and can also be seen at