Thought for the day:Licensing is like being politely mugged

Hard-hitting IT commentator Dr Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.

Hard-hitting IT commentator Dr Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.

In the past week there has been considerable fuss about the cost of software. What happened, of course, is that the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) stood up on its hind legs and, ever so politely, bared its teeth at the notorious Thames Valley Park gang.

The large software companies that reside there follow close on the heels of the Treasury and VAT, in their ability to hoover up funds from your business current account.

"Software is too expensive," bleat the editorials, as they note, "Licensing is a minefield of ambiguity". Well, we know that, and last summer's efforts to coerce even more money out of cash-strapped end users encouraged a very tight-lipped British revolution. Businesses complained bitterly that they were being mugged.

As in real life, there was no policeman to record the complaint, yet everyone knew the name of the mugger. At the Department of Trade and Industry, the minister was suitably indignant and there was an attempt to sweeten the extortionate-sounding licensing exercise that triggered the protest.

Now if you accept US figures that technology costs represent as much as 60% of a company's annual spend, then once you've covered the the coffee budget, the Christmas party, the pension fund and the executive car allowance, there's very little in the account. If the government can pool its resources and, allegedly, squeeze a £60m saving from a very well-known software gorilla, then why can't the rest of us?

The answer is that like everything else in this increasingly dysfunctional country, we spend most of our time complaining and very little time doing anything to improve the situation.

While the proud French are fond of barricading lorries and burning sheep (or is it the other way around?) we, the nation that invented Big Brother and Pop Idol, love to be disappointed and expect as our birthright to be taken advantage of. The act of shelling out £110 for a so-called TV licence is just one example of chronic apathy in action.

It's about time the DTI started consulting with hallowed institutions such as the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors in pursuit of a better deal for British businesses of all sizes. If the OGC can aggregate the public sector desktop into a single deal that will, reportedly, save the Treasury £60 million, then why not do the same for the private sector? We need a strong mixture of ombudsman and Robin Hood, who might be capable of negotiating a better deal for everyone else.

That would take co-operation, initiative and, dare I say it, even imagination at the highest levels of business, government and industry. There is more chance of saving the rainforest or getting the trains to run on time, I hear you say. Sadly, you're probably right!

Simon Moores' column also appears on

Zentelligence: Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and ramblings of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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