Some immodest proposals

“The risk of fire, the risk of terrorism, the risk of theft are far, far less than the risk of upgrade.”

I wish I’d said that, but I didn’t. It came from a member of the audience during a panel discussion about software maintenance and support I moderated recently.

The panellists, mostly from large enterprises, made the case for why maintenance and support must be a money-making operation — aka, a profit centre. But those in the audience, the payees, were not as sanguine about the current industry standard of tacking on 20 to 29 per cent above the cost of the software licence for maintenance, bug fixes, support, and upgrades, especially when those upgrades turn into nightmares that threaten to bring their business to a grinding, albeit temporary, halt.

Here are some immodest proposals to fix the situation. Bear in mind that although the giant ISVs would have you believe they’re in the driver’s seat, the companies you represent singly or possibly in the form of a user group or an even broader association have more clout than you suspect.

Guarantees and insurance: if the software company is so sure that the new version is better than the old and will increase your ROI, why doesn’t it offer some form of guarantee or insurance?

A guarantee might be in the form of the ISV basing its upgrade fee on a percentage of money saved by your company following the deployment of the new software. Insurance, an even more radical idea, might take the form of the ISV indemnifying the customer if the upgrade causes downtime or loss of business.

Upgrade roadmap: similar to a guarantee, an upgrade roadmap would be provided by the software company sitting down with IT and perhaps the CFO and laying out what all involved parties can expect in new features over the length of the maintenance contract. This should happen before the company commits to renewing.

Diagnostics: of course before putting any software into a production environment, IT must first run it in a development environment. Beyond that, however, what’s wrong with the ISV providing customers with diagnostic tools that simulate the calls the new software will be making to your OS and to other applications as well?

Despite all the fine talk from ISVs about reinvesting profits back into their business in order to build better software, there’s something counter intuitive about promising the highest standards for the product and then charging and making a nice profit, mind you, from supporting it.

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