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Lessening the effects of a bad vendor deal

We signed a deal last year with a major software vendor that we thought was sound. As it turns out, we agreed to terms that we shouldn't have and now we're in the middle of a nightmare - paying through the nose for support and upgrades among other things. Is there anything we can do to lessen the damage - before I get fired?

OK. Take a deep breath and relax. Without seeing the contract firsthand, I do not know all of your available options....

However, based on what you said (paying for support and upgrades), I'm going to assume that you have a perpetual license (a license that, unless breached or terminated, is good forever). A perpetual license is actually a good thing. The license gives you the ability to continue to use the current version of the product for as long as you wish. This gives you leverage. Remember, once you've purchased the software, the only way for the vendor to keep getting a steady revenue stream from you is for you to purchase maintenance (or in your case, upgrades, too). If you cut off that revenue stream, you might perk up their ears.

Using this leverage, the first thing you can do is stop doing upgrades. Unless contractually bound, there is no reason to constantly upgrade your software. You purchased the version you purchased for a reason, and very rarely do upgrades give you significantly better features or functionality.

The second thing you can do is cancel your maintenance contract. Only in very rare instances is a buyer obligated by the vendor to purchase maintenance (this is usually a requirement of the buyer's company or IS staff). By canceling maintenance, you might no longer have access to their help desk or to upgrades, but since you're not getting upgrades included anyways, this will only have the effect of stranding you in the event that you have a problem using their software.

Invariably, the vendor is going to try to sell you on maintenance again. You can use that time to renegotiate the terms of your maintenance agreement (including the ability to get upgrades for free - as some of the dollars spent on maintenance is almost always being used for research and development of those upgrades). Just remember this lesson for the future, and make sure that next time you puzzle through all of the possibilities for post-contract problems while you are still holding all of the money.

This was last published in March 2005

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