BSkyB v. EDS: The $1.6 Billion Legal Case That Will Change CRM Forever


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Worried outsourcers and systems integrators will have to wait a little longer for judgement to be passed in a landmark legal case which has massive implications for the CRM industry and beyond.

BSkyB vs. EDS is a case which industry insiders are watching very carefully. There are massive amounts of money at stake.

BSkyB, the UK’s largest satellite broadcaster, is claiming £709 million (about US$1.6 billion) in damages from EDS. It alleges that in 2000 the EDS bid team dishonestly and fraudulently misrepresented its expertise and resources in order to win the contract to develop and implement a new CRM system for BSkyB’s contact centres. In the end, BSkyB says they had to sack EDS for failure to deliver, and to develop the system in-house.

The hearing in the Technology and Construction Court of the Queens Bench Division of the English and Welsh High Court ended in July 2008, after more than 9 months of evidence, but the complexity of the case and sheer quantity of argument presented by both sides has meant that the judge, Mr. Justice Ramsey, has yet to hand down his judgment.

The original CRM system was to have cost BSkyB £48 million, but the alleged failure to deliver meant that customer service performance was suboptimal and that customer churn levels were consequently unacceptably high. Lost business benefits are the primary basis for the huge damages claim, which defendants EDS have called “absurd and extravagant”. Ultimately the system cost EDS £265 million and took six years to develop and implement.

EDS has counterclaimed that BSkyB did not know what it wanted from the CRM system, and that BSkyB’s requirements “kept on emerging like handkerchiefs from a magician’s sleeve” during development, and that 3 years into the project, in 2003, EDS eventually had to set up a project team to clarify system requirements.

Legal experts are mulling over the possibilities.

One possibility is that Justice Ramsey will judge that EDS did, indeed, misrepresent their expertise and resources dishonestly and fraudulently, rather than simply negligently. If BSkyB is successful with this argument, there is no chance that EDS can rely on the liability cap specified in the contract, thought to be about £50 million. The maximum of EDS’s liability then becomes the full damages claim of £709 million.

The second possibility is that Justice Ramsey judges that there was no dishonest or fraudulent behaviours by the EDS bid team. In this case, EDS could still be held liable for damages due to failure to deliver, but the judge would have to assess the relative merits of the expert arguments presented by both sides in determining the amount.

A third possible outcome is that the parties in dispute settle out-of-court before judgement is handed down. Given that legal costs in excess of £70 million have already been incurred the parties might just swallow their pride, accept their losses and move on.

However, I think that’s unlikely. BSkyB is substantially owned by News Corporation which is chaired by the renowned scrapper Rupert Murdoch. He’s not one to shy away from a battle. If BSkyB’s case is not substantially supported by the judgement an appeal is possible. EDS was acquired by HP in 2008 for $13.9 billion, a price which will already have factored in the risk of losing this case. HP, too, might be ready to appeal.

Cynics might suggest that there is a long and disreputable tradition of outsourcers overpromising and an equally well established convention of clients not knowing what they want.

One thing is certain whatever the outcome of this case. Outsourcers and clients will be much more vigilant about what they say and do, as they prepare and respond to bid documentation. This costly case has been rolling on for years and may roll on for a few more, consuming massive amounts of time, manpower and money, and exhausting any number of people in the process.

Outsourcers and their clients await this judgement with keen anticipation. It should be soon.

Francis Buttle
Dr. Francis Buttle founded the consultancy that bears his name back in 1979. He has over 40 years of international experience in consulting, training, researching, educating, and writing about a broad range of marketing and customer management matters. He is author of 15 books, has been a full professor of Marketing, Customer Relationship Management, Relationship Marketing, and Management.


  1. Having served as an expert witness in cases like this, I’d say there’s usually plenty of blame to go around. However, for EDS to apparantly fail to start with customers and what they need and expect and then work back through process design to enabling technology at very least would appear to demonstrate lack of knowledge regarding what makes CRM tick.

  2. Hi Francis

    A landmark ruling in the making indeed.

    I know nothing about the BSkxB/EDS case. However, having worked on numerous large CRM system developments and on recovering runaway CRM projects, it is not uncommon for clients to not know what they want (over and above the high-level requirements in the RFP) and for outsourcers to fail to put in place a robust process to collect all the client’s requirements (over and above the stated requirements in the RFP), to prioritise them and then to manage the project accordingly.

    Who is to blame?

    Although both sides are usually partly to blame, I err on the side of blaming the outsourcer for overselling (the CRM dream), for under-pricing (on the understanding that profits will be achieved by playing the ‘change request game’) and to be blunt, for having poor quality project managers who are unable to manage the complexity of such large projects. Above a certain size, history suggests that CRM projects are almost bound to come in late, to be incomplete and to be significantly over budget.

    What to do about it?

    A few simple steps would help avoid these problems:

    • Capture All Client Needs – The list of requirements presented in an RFP are usually nothing more than a high-level wish-list. The first part of any CRM project should look at the jobs users will use the system to do and the outcomes they are looking to achieve, to create a definitive list of use-based requirements. Having a list of requirements that represent what users want the system to help them do is far more useful than the usual wish-list created in traditional requirements definition approaches. This list will likely be somewhat different to the original list in the RFP. The next two activities will prioritise the list around the CRM goals the client wants to achieve.
    • Understand Client CRM Capabilities – A CRM system is only an enabler. That’s why you should start by looking at user jobs and outcomes to provide a definitive list of requirements that need to be enabled. But that by itself is not enough. Too many CRM systems are developed on the tacit expectation that once the client has the system they will be able to ‘do CRM’. As the old saying – ‘Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation’ – shows clearly, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, a CRM system is but one component part of building a CRM capability; other complementary components that also need to be built at the same time include processes & business rules, data and information flows, roles & responsibilities and work climate & culture. Ignore any of these complementary component parts and the CRM system will not be able to deliver its promise. The second part of any CRM project should be assessing the client’s current and desired CRM capabilities. All CRM outsourcers will already have a CRM capability assessment. Indeed, if they don’t have one, they are most likely not the ‘right stuff’ and should be avoided anyway.
    • Prioritise Needs Around Desired Capabilities – Armed with a list of requirements that represent what users want the system to help them do and an assessment of the client’s current and desired CRM capabilities, the client and the outsourcer should sit around the table and prioritise the list of user requirements based on how they support achieving the client’s desired CRM capabilities. The requirements that support achieving the next step in developing the CRM capabilities should be prioritised highest followed by those that will build on the capability to take it to the next capability maturity level. In this way, the CRM capabilities are developed one step at a time and the CRM system is developed in parallel to enable the capabilities. This requires a detailed understanding of how all the component parts of the CRM capabilities interact to drive business success on the art of the outsourcer. If the outsourcer doesn’t have the understanding, they are most likely not the ‘right stuff’ and should be avoided anyway.

      Taking a step-by-step capabilities development approach like this not only focuses CRM system development on enabling the capabilities, but also highlights all the other complementary component parts that need to be developed at the same time. Not building the complementary component parts at the same time is the No1 cause of CRM systems failure.

    • Structure Programme into 100-day Projects – Once the CRM system has been tied to the step-wise development of the CRM capabilities, the CRM programme can be broken down into a series of 100-day projects that can be run as internal ventures. This is a different way of running projects that focuses single-mindedly on delivering milestones against budget, just as a start-up must if it is to to survive and thrive. I run all projects this way today, even large-scale CRM system development.
    • Involve Client Staff in Joint Development – The last part of any CRM system development should and one that should permeate the whole project is closely involving client users in all aspects of the project. After all, they are the ones that are going to have to use the CRM system day-in, day-out.

    As Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” It is time to think differently abut how we develop CRM systems. To think about what users are trying to do and how we align cost-creating CRM systems deveopment into value-creating CRM capabilty development. It sure beats spending GBP 70 million on lawyers fees. Now that is a pure waste of money if ever I saw one!

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

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