If you check out the CIO Insight top IT spending priorities for 2009, you’ll see that one-half of the 15 technology sets are software. C-suite executives are allocating their precious budget dollars to operating system upgrades, compliance applications, software-oriented architectures, knowledge management systems, business intelligence suites, information lifecycle management, business continuity and virtualization.
Looking down the list, many of the items address business optimization, productivity and performance. As the economy turned downward, IT leaders started looking for applications and resources that would enable their organizations to do more with less. Business intelligence and knowledge management systems, for instance, provide businesses with greater transparency into their organizations and operations, providing management agility and flexibility in their decision making.
Ah, but there’s a catch. Software purchased isn’t necessarily productive software. Businesses will invest tens of thousands of dollars on software that will sit on the shelf for months before anyone even removes the shrink wrap and begins deploying. Look no further than Windows Vista; scores of enterprises bought the upgrade to XP but never made the conversion.
The culprit in these software deployment gaps, says Kory Kellogg, a regional sales manager at TekFocus, is the lack of in-house resources to fully understand the capabilities, rollout details and operational aspects of complex software packages.
“IT departments are overtaxed, so there’s always going to be a lag,” says Kellogg, whose company specializes in training IT specialists on Microsoft applications. “IT departments are overtaxed, still lack IT talent and are having a hard time getting positions filled. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.”
Here’s the big “duh!” moment: Investments only produce a positive result when the products invested in are being used and used to their greatest potential. Consider this: If a company invests in a new CRM application and it sits on the shelf for six months before it’s taken out of the box for deployment, how long until that package starts returning a positive benefit? Three months? Six months? Nine months? Businesses are wasting valuable time and money on applications that could be producing tangible results if only they had better planning and deployment resources available.
SoftwareOne, one of the biggest large account resellers in North America, is partnering with hundreds of hardware solution providers to provide their mutual customers with deeper insights into their software needs and optimizing the purchase and management of software licenses. Its VARassist and SAM (software account management) programs are contributing to the value of data networking, security and storage hardware resellers by taking the guesswork out of software resource planning.
“The market conditions are pretty concerning because customers are struggling, but they are looking for measurable opportunities, investing in places that will help them keep the lights on and stay in business,” says Craig Gadberry, vice president of sales and marketing at SoftwareOne.
While SoftwareOne’s peer-to-peer partnership program is more about identifying the right software and helping end users avoid buying unnecessary licenses, the process by which SoftwareOne and its hardware resellers go about this can help expedite the deployment and value process. If a solution provider can show what software is needed, provide just the right amount of licensing, and then provide the deployment and training services, it will move closer to helping the customer recognize the ROI promised in the presale conversations.
“You need technology to map the process, realign the process and change the culture,” says Zak Virdi, general manager for SoftwareOne’s operations in the United Kingdom. “This is more about the process than the technology.”
Solution providers that are either selling software or partnering with software specialists should go the extra mile in planning the application deployment process, augmenting the rollout with staff and training, and mapping a process for achieving the goals and returns of the system. While it’s not fair, customers will hold the solution provider accountable for the software not producing the desired results even if it was the customer that held up the deployment. And, deployment planning and services are an excellent value-add opportunity for solution providers.
Now is not the time to leave any opportunity sitting on the table. Selling software and walking away oftentimes result in nonproductive shelfware. Help close the software deployment gap and you’ll help your business achieve greater levels of profitability and customer satisfaction.
Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider.