Some businesses pay up to seven times as much as others for identical software applications according to the results of a 10-year research project conducted by the International Software Benchmarking Standards Group (ISBSG).
On a sample of 41 mainframe projects developed using the Natural programming language, the cost of developing an average-sized project varies from £31,000 to £220,000, and this is a conservative estimate, says the ISBSG.
Banks, insurance companies and large government departments fared worst.
Organisations with the best project delivery rates were energy companies, professional services and medical and health care services. ISBSG's research showed that energy companies were able to deliver user functionality within one hour, compared to 13.2 hours for banks.
The ISBSG recommend using "functional size measures", which measure the output of a software engineering project in terms of the size of the functionality provided to the end-user. The most used variant is known as "function points".
An IT department can specify the nature of the software they required and have potential developers bid for the work valued on the basis of "pound per function point" for software ultimately delivered. This approach has been branded the "Southern Scope" method, and has been adopted by the Victoria state government in Australia as the approach which should be used when acquiring custom-built software.
The non-profit making ISBSG aims to improve global software engineering practices by providing data which is standardised, verified, recent and representative of current technologies.
The research is available in Release 6 of the group's book, The Benchmark.