As a company grows its expertise in a certain area, it is only logical that it would like to utilize this expertise more in order to grow the business. At the same time, new clients would also like to take advantage of this expertise. It looks like a win–win situation, except that sometimes it means that you gain clients who are direct competitors in a specific market niche. This predicament might raise a conflict of interest if you do not make intelligent decisions to prevent it.
For a software development company—by and large, for any company in any business—it means that you need to put mechanisms in place that will protect your clients’ and your company’s interests without affecting the performance and efficiency.
To clarify, let’s take a look at an example. At one point, Auriga had two customers who were direct competitors (both leading medical equipment manufacturers). The projects for each company included the development of patient monitors. If you look at the task at hand, you might wonder if it is at all possible to develop two products with similar features for two different companies.
You have to answer a number of questions here for yourself:
- How do we protect the intellectual property of both companies?
- How do we retain both companies as customers despite the fact that they might see this as a conflict of interest?
- How do we avoid ethical issues in software development under the above-mentioned circumstances?
For clients, the most important thing is the protection of their intellectual property. In projects like these, clients have to transfer IP to the Auriga development teams. The expertise and IP come in many forms. It might be the knowledge of how internal software modules operate; sometimes, the clients have to transfer the entire code or portions of the code to the development teams. All of these things are considered intellectual property in the broad sense. Some of them are trade secrets, are patented or patentable. Some of this IP may constitute part of the client’s significant competitive advantage.
While working on the development of two patient monitors for two clients, Auriga applied best efforts to protect the clients’ IP to keep them calm and happy.
To do so, Auriga enforced the so-called Chinese Wall between the teams. It is also known as an ethical wall. What exactly does it mean? It is a metaphorical wall between teams working on projects for two different clients. We can also call it an intellectual-property firewall that makes sure that the team that works for Client A does not have any information about any activities of the team that works for Client B, and vice versa. This approach reassures the companies that they can share confidential information with Auriga without worrying that their trade secret might be revealed to their competitor.
This non-communication between two teams guarantees that there will never be any inappropriate release of sensitive information. Ethical walls and physical separation reduce the risk of inadvertent leakage of intellectual property from one client’s project to another’s. Plus, you should keep in mind that it significantly reduces the risk of IP theft by narrowing down the number of engineers with access to a particular client’s intellectual property.
Creation of an ethical wall in Auriga’s projects generally entails:
- Physical and logistical separation. Auriga has a number of development centers situated in different cities and even countries. To put our clients at ease, we can ensure the physical isolation of teams working on projects with potential IP conflicts by situating them in different rooms or sites;
- Dedicated resources. Within the frames of both described projects, Auriga’s engineers employed extra data-protection tools such as dedicated servers, products, and hardware and dedicated real and virtual IP address pools. In addition, dedicated LAN segments for workstations/servers were arranged with access only provided to the team and the client. Team servers were deployed in secured and UPS-protected server rooms with limited physical access.
- Employing ethical standards in the company. It goes without saying that Auriga has its own Code of Ethics that every employee is familiar with and abides by. All employees are briefed and complete information-security training sessions. In competing projects, team members are instructed to avoid communicating about the projects, and of course, the employees are never cross-assigned between competitive projects.
Both projects were successfully completed to the satisfaction of the clients. Current and future clients can be sure that their trade secrets are safe with Auriga. The key aspect here is that we remain open and transparent for our clients. As a client, you have nothing to worry about. The success of every outsourcing company depends 100% on its reputation and the trust of clients. No outsourcer wants to risk their professional reputation, and as an outsourcing software development company, we do our best not only to efficiently create the software required by our clients but also to protect our clients’ intellectual property.