Case studies

(Langford, 1996)

A software house was invited to tender for a software engineering job. However, their quotation was deliberately pitched at an uneconomically low level. Once the client company was firmly committed, 'unexpected' charges and expenses were discovered - and the final price charged was substantially higher. The action was defended as being in the company's best interests - 'after all, we wouldn't otherwise have got the job'.

A software team were working on modifying an automated production control package. Due to unexpected difficulties, implementation had gone much more slowly than anticipated. However, under the contract, delay in signing off the work would incur financial penalties. Testing was deliberately cut short, and a 'buggy' version of the code released. The client was unaware of the decision, and penalties were avoided.

A team member was developing a complex database application. Asked by a team leader if she was able to tackle a particularly tricky aspect of coding, she replied honestly - she didn't think so, but would do her best. The reply did not go down well; she was shortly afterwards moved to another team - an effective demotion.

A consultant was telephoned when leaving the office. A client was holding a board meeting, and wanted to confirm an earlier provisional quotation. The consultant felt he did not have sufficient information. After 'some pretty rapid thinking' he decided to say he couldn't respond until the next day, when he knew the information would be available. His company lost the contract.

Can we afford to be ethical?

Duncan Langford (1996):

"We live in a world where people frequently do act unethically, and, despite our wishes, this is unlikely to change. We may well all subscribe in theory to a contention that ethical behaviour is essential - but, faced with the need to land a contract, or maintain software with insufficient resources, cutting a few ethical corners might make the difference between profit and loss.

"In the 'real world' ... is it realistic to assume that any firm can compete adequately with unethical rivals without first sharing their morals?"

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