A Price to Pay

A Price to Pay

It’s hard to pay the bill when you don’t know what it is

I thought the project was going to be a doddle. A certain vendor wanted the prices of its rivals' products so it could gauge the price-competitiveness of its own offerings. I figured a bit of Web searching would readily glean the information and said the project would take me about two months. The end is now in sight but it has taken nearly four. Along the way I have had a thorough education on just how mind bogglingly complex it is for a CIO to configure a piece of software.

The first surprise was the level of secrecy with which several suppliers guard their prices. On quite a few occasions I was advised that pricing information was "commercial in confidence". For an industry that has aspirations to be seen as another consumer market, I thought this response was laughable. Imagine trying to buy a car if the dealer didn't display its price. Why then can't a software vendor be more upfront with such basic information.

Interestingly, the guilty parties here were not the major suppliers. IBM and Oracle had online shops offering information, while pricing for Microsoft, CA and Symantec was available on the major distributor Web sites. It was the niche players who seemed to keep their prices closest to their chests. I wondered what purpose this served. Many of these product sets are really tools that need to be tailored to the specific needs of the client through customization. All the price reveals is the starting point for the cost of this work.

However, where the big players contributed to the complexity was in their licensing arrangements. With Microsoft I had to navigate through the nuances of server, processor and enterprise editions of the software. To this was added the challenge of determining whether the product included or excluded software assurance. Oracle introduced me to two significantly different, but similar sounding, versions of the Standard Edition and Standard Edition One databases. Then with IBM I had to specify the exact processor that would host the software as this influenced the "value unit" licences, and relevant costs, that accrued. Throughout it all each vendor showed little consistency in its product code numbering.

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