Users are bringing a new tool to their ongoing effort to get vendors to improve delivery of software maintenance, a "code of conduct for IT maintenance."
This code is a step beyond the typical, blunt force ways of getting vendors to offer favorable terms. It's a way of telling the software industry, concisely, just what is wrong with it.
Among its authors, Steven Stone, the CIO of Lowe's Companies, who said his reason for participating in developing it is because software maintenance "is our largest growing line item in our expenses and it's been that way for about the last 10 years."
The code also arrives at the same time the major software providers buying up other firms, and big firms can be the least flexible in their maintenance terms, said Patrick Savard, senior director of IT services and process management at McGraw-Hill Companies. Savard also worked on the code. "The fear that we have is this consolidation in the industry," he said.
Whether the code has any influence or not may be up to Gartner, which organized a council of senior IT executives to work on the problem. The merits of the code were discussed at Gartner's Symposium/ITexpo in Orlando.
Among the things the code ask vendors is to provide predictable software updates that are, among other things, fast enough to respond to changes in laws and regulations.
"Our challenge is in getting patches out to 1,700 plus stores is we really have coordinate a lot of different vendors, a lot of different stuff together, so knowing that schedule up front really makes our job a lot easier," said Stone.
The code also calls for "stratified IT support levels," in ways that would deliver the highest levels of support to the most critical business processes. Vendors don't necessarily do that, meaning that companies will pay high support cost no matter where the software is installed. Another is a call for "reasonable and predictable maintenance free charges."
The need for maintenance can fall as the software becomes more stable overtime, but an upgrade can bring new problems. One of the things Lowe's does is with software upgrades is to "push back hard on the level of quality that we are expecting, and hold the vendor accountable for defects," Stone said.
The users also want the ability to "end support for nonproduction environments," or the ability to turn off support as the use of an application declines. Savard said he is building a case for reduced support costs through software asset management and metering, enabling him "to be able to go back with the right data" to the vendor.
Other bullet points in the code include a call for "constant, predictable service levels," and "clearly defined legacy version support."
The legacy issue is a sticking point particularly since some software can remain in operation for decades, and the case for upgrades, in advance of end-of-support, not always apparent. The code also want "explicit statement of line item details," to give users better transparency into costs.
Defining legacy is a difficult thing, and Savard hit on one point that has surfaced at the conference, the end of support for Windows XP in 2014. He said he's not sure "that there is a burning need" to get off XP, but they have to start migration now because of the advancing date.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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This story, "What's wrong with software vendors? " was originally published by Computerworld.