Contractual provisions to mitigate holdup: Evidence from information technology outsourcing

Anjana Susarla, Ramanath Subramanyam, Prasanna Karhade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The complexity and scope of outsourced information technology (IT) demands relationship-specific invest-Tments from vendors, which, when combined with contract incompleteness, may result in underinvestment and inefficient bargaining, referred to as the holdup problem. Using a unique data set of over 100 IT outsourcing contracts, we examine whether contract extensiveness, i.e., the extent to which firms and vendors can foresee contingencies when designing contracts for outsourced IT services, can alleviate holdup. While extensively detailed contracts are likely to include a greater breadth of activities outsourced to a vendor, task complexity makes it difficult to draft extensive contracts. Furthermore, extensive contracts may still be incomplete with respect to enforcement. We then examine the role of nonprice contractual provisions, contract duration, and extendibility terms, which give firms an option to extend the contract to limit the likelihood of holdup. We also validate the ex post efficiency of contract design choices by examining renewals of contracting agreements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-55
Number of pages19
JournalInformation Systems Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Contract duration
  • Extendibility clauses
  • Holdup
  • Incomplete contracts
  • Information technology outsourcing
  • Underinvestment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Information Systems
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


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