Breaking the them-and-us barrier in software licensing can bring immense benefits to companies, says Bill Monk.
Independence can be good or bad and in today's business world, and it is almost impossible to find anyone who is completely independent.
Supplier collaborations generally benefit the customer, but there are some historic amalgamations that have had a very negative effect on consumers, and none more notable than those in the software business.
Here two camps have emerged: the suppliers who want to make sure they get their fair dues; and the users who want to get on with their business without having to spend hard-won cash unnecessarily. In the middle are organisations such as the Business Software Alliance and the Federation Against Software Theft.
The debate is focused on the desktop estate, where suppliers and their agents seek to recoup perceived revenue lost through piracy. Fuelled by claims that 26% of all software installed in the UK is illegal, according to a survey by the BSA, there appears to be a lot of cash ready for the taking.
It is also on the desktop that managing inventory, particularly in large companies, verges on the impossible. Many firms do not know what state they are really in and do not believe that they have a 26% variance in their asset management process. To an outsider, it is easy for organisations to appear out of control and for suppliers to question whether their software is licensed. Threats of jail sentences, fines and actions based on information provided by paid whistleblowers widen the gulf between the camps.
Publishing piracy statistics can be counterproductive. The rate for the UK is almost half that of France, where there are more laws on inventory control than here. In addition, larger organisations are often paying substantially more overall for their software environment than they need.
There are some factors in the debate that need to be understood. For instance, it is unclear what the BSA has based its statistics on. They are likely to be drawn primarily from medium-sized businesses. The domestic market, small businesses and large organisations may not be fully represented in the statistics but they are bundled into the same piracy accusation figure.
Progress in achieving consensus is slow despite possibly well-intentioned intervention by the likes of Fast and the BSA. Often an independent and unbiased view can help, even though this has the potential to create a third camp.
The recent call for a government body to provide an independent reference point is unlikely to be productive. Often the task is as simple as gaining agreement that the supplier and customer agree on a price for using the software. Unfortunately, it is not always as easy as it sounds.
Using independent advice and assistance can help. Whether the aim is simply to reduce the risks associated with being non-compliant or to realise savings, the cost of having your technical environment and contractual state checked out is relatively small compared to the level of benefit that some organisations have already shown they can achieve.
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Bill Monk is director of Licensing, Outsourcing and Consultancy Services