Software Support: Should We be Paying for Bug Fixes?
The software contract review time of year is one of those periods most people dread. There are invariably changes to costs, licensing, service and support, all wrapped in byzantine terms and conditions. Software vendors in general, and BI tool vendors in particular, have never been particularly good about this process.
One fact some data warehouse managers may not know is that Microstrategy is based in one of the states that passed a variant of UCITA , self-help provisions and all. UCITA is a legal morass pushed by some of the biggest software organizations that includes numerous draconian provisions to render customers powerless. This came up during my negotiations with Microstrategy two years ago. I had to pay a law firm to review the contract and provide specific anti-UCITA clauses to incorporate into the contract they wanted us to sign.
Picking on MSI isn't my goal - the experience of dealing with them and UCITA provisions is just an example of how the legal deck is stacked against customers. My real complaint extends beyond these legal problems to the support and upgrade provisions of software licensing.
I fully support paying for software upgrades. If I want the latest features, or compatibility with the latest major release of Oracle, paying for the upgrade is reasonable. What is unreasonable is paying for features that were supposed to work when I bought the software, and paying for fixes to problems in my software. Software quality is a serious problem with hard costs to the business, both IT labor costs, user labor costs for workarounds, and the hard costs of business interruption.
Durable goods have warranties. Even my toaster comes with a warranty. If there's a major problem with my car due to a design or manufacturing defect then the manufacturer will likely fix it, even if the warranty expired. Yet I'm expected to pay 20% of the purchase cost of the software every year for simple fixes.
I propose that bug fixes, support and upgrades be unbundled. Instead, software companies provide bug (and security) fixes free of charge. Paid support should be reserved for actual support: me calling them for help in configuring or using the software. Upgrades can be combined with support, or paid for separately.
Pulling the upgrades out of the contract also allows upgrades to be purchased on business or technical merit. This has the obvious disincentive for the vendor because they now have to sell me on the the benefits of the latest version. Other disincentives include loss of revenue now that customers aren't paying to correct poor quality software, and how to handle the invariable obsolescence of supporting technology.
Maybe with this buyer's market and the building backlash against software costs and missing ROI we will see a vendor take a bold step forward. Wouldn't that be nice?
Posted by Mark Monday, June 23, 2003 9:32:00 PM |