Made to pay

The brave new world of software, encompassing such approaches as service-oriented architecture(SOA), software-as-a-service (SaaS) and usage-based services, may help usher in a more responsive era of enterprise computing, but the journey there will encounter some significant barriers. Not least of which is the issue of cost.

Of the panellists that made up the concluding debate of the Future of Software 2006 conference, three felt that the challenges of moving to new, more flexible software models were substantial.

On service-oriented architecture

“If our business processes and our IT systems don’t operate successfully against the changing business then we aren’t delivering what the business needs.”

Roger Leaton, software agility advocate, BT

 “If you just dive into SOA, and you do a bit of integration using SOA to get started, you’ll probably find that the services you expose are not going to be meaningful to the business in the long-term.”

Rob Hailstone, software infrastructure practice director, Butler Group

On virtualisation

“We’ve had a bit of a dalliance with virtualisation in a pilot and that’s actually been fairly successful because we could demonstrate its impact and prove the benefits to the business.”

Nigel Zaldua-Taylor, head of information systems strategy, Centrica

On the data challenge

“We have lots of software to consolidate but we also have a data challenge. How we manage data is key: if you focus purely on the software side you won’t get it right.”

Dr Thomas Voegel, director of enterprise architecture, BP

Dave Osman, vice president for asset management and inventory engineering, at financial services heavyweight Deutsche Bank, summed up the sentiments: “The software providers are not incentivised to provide the variability to meet my users’ needs.” Currently, many software vendors are reliant on income from licence sales and charge per user or per processor, irrespective of how intensely or not the applications are used.

Furthermore, the approach some vendors have taken to their licensing has left some users very sceptical about the likelihood of a wholesale move to a more flexible software future. “We’re prisoners to what went on in our past,” said Gerry McMullan, business policy manager at Birmingham City Council.

As an organisation with multiple units, all capable of making independent purchasing decisions, Birmingham Council’s applications are licensed on several terms. As part of its strategy, it has been moving towards an outsourcing model for its IT, setting up a joint venture with services provider Capita. The licensing models simply did not fit this change in operations, said McMullan. “To give it its technical term: it was a pig’s ear.”

For some, the advent of sophisticated software-as-a-service models have raised hopes that users might wrestle power back from the suppliers, by being able to buy software services on demand – and to switch them off just as easily.

But commenting from the floor, Ovum analyst David Bradshaw poured scorn on this idea. “SaaS takes just as long [as traditional on-premise software] to set up and tweak. The idea that it is easy to change has been over-inflated.”

For Dr John Manley, the director of utility computing at Hewlett-Packard’s labs in Bristol, the answer is easy: outsource software provision entirely. “If software licensing is a problem, forget about it by making it someone else’s problem. Leave it to the service provider.”

However, a ‘pay-as-you-go’ approach has a significant impact on the business, warns Yonadav Yuval, programme executive for European product management, at General Motors Europe. “Our business cycle is 12 months. That limits how far you can change requirements. Inflicting a daily change on to the organisation is not done light-heartedly.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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