You Are a Software Hostage


Author: Steven Zolman

You've been held captive by inflexible, inscrutable and inexplicable software licensing arrangements by likewise uncooperative, unsupportive and unabashedly shameless software suppliers. And, unfortunately, you seem to have Stockholm Syndrome-esque tendencies when it comes to escaping these predatory arrangements and ruthless relationships. [Because it's crass to suggest that software licensees should be likened to actual hostages whose very lives are threatened, I think it important to note that my supposition in this article is not meant to demean or otherwise belittle the suffering of those actually held hostage.]

You've been held captive by inflexible, inscrutable and inexplicable software licensing arrangements by likewise uncooperative, unsupportive and unabashedly shameless software suppliers. And, unfortunately, you seem to have Stockholm Syndrome-esque tendencies when it comes to escaping these predatory arrangements and ruthless relationships. [Because it's crass to suggest that software licensees should be likened to actual hostages whose very lives are threatened, I think it important to note that my supposition in this article is not meant to demean or otherwise belittle the suffering of those actually held hostage.]

The Wikipedia article is quite extensive, but there are four key factors to test whether a situation lends itself to the creation of Stockholm Syndrome:

• Hostages who develop Stockholm Syndrome often view the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it.
• The hostage endures isolation from other people and has only the captor’s perspective available.
• The hostage taker threatens to harm the victim and gives the perception of having the capability to do so.
• The captive sees the perpetrator as showing some degree of kindness. Kindness serves as the cornerstone of Stockholm Syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the captor exhibits it in some form toward the hostage. However, captives often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness and may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence.

In the course of my career, I've had the pleasure of working with some of the best and brightest licensing minds in the world - on both sides of the table. There are some people out there who love getting down and dirty into the mechanics of licensing, trying to push the envelope, drafting and re-drafting each clause with increasingly greater levels of precision. I should know; I'm one of them. But for the most part, most software users simply want a working product day in and day out. The license is something to be forgotten about as soon as the ink dries.

And it's these folks who often become blinded by their captors - ensnared in the ever-present promise of future capabilities in the ‘next’ upgrade, problems that will be erased in the next round of bug fixes, the need to stay current on support by deploying that next release; underwhelming and disappointing features that never seem to address the underlying concerns in their entirety, yet sympathetic, sometimes even apologetic towards the supplier. Some of these hostages even go so far as to PAY their captors to remain a hostage (commonly known as a maintenance and/or usage fee)! Thus, like Stockholm Syndrome sufferers, they get to a point where they HAVE to be supportive of their Supplier/Captor – it’s psychological conditioning after all.

Suppliers often use contractual terms and conditions to prevent collaborative efforts between customers to counteract supplier tactics and protect the vast market pricing inequities, most notably empirically illustrated by significant fee disparities between regions and/or industries, but sometimes even evident between customers within the same region, and in the same industry. Suppliers encourage conversation about their products normally only in the context of a supplier-created and managed forums (such as Sapphire for SAP, or Oracle’s OpenWorld conference, and many other supplier conferences), and, when challenged about the ongoing necessity of maintenance and support payments, will often threaten to increase support payments on remaining assets, take away support access to all other assets (or increase the cost of support if needed again at some point in the future). In true captor form, many suppliers also continuously contact clients to see “what more they can do for you”, rarely actually ever doing what you ask for.

To counteract this syndrome, the Software Hostage needs to realize that they have the ability to escape. Certainly, in most cases, they have the option to select a new supplier and they can often alter their existing use of a particular supplier’s products. They can also refuse to be isolated from other users of the supplier’s products through negotiation of more favorable contractual terms and conditions. And they can demand actual kind acts, rather than just the offer of kindness. NET(net) has a particular focus and expertise on software licensing and helps its clients get more value by leveraging its federated market intelligence amassed from serving the unique and demanding needs of its 1500 global clients, its proprietary process of IT optimization refined and perfected over the course of professionally managing over 15,000 field engagements, and it’s proven track record of exceptional results providing clients with “at the bargaining table” assistance, negotiating savings and benefits in excess of 33% on average and totaling over $50 billion since 2002.

The best cure to this Stockholm Syndrome of sorts with your Software Suppliers is prevention. Engage NET(net) to help you find, get and keep value in your IT investments. We can help you build more sustainable value in your IT investments by helping you optimize your software licenses and negotiating more favorable terms and conditions in your contractual agreements. Contact us today to learn more.

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