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The software industry: So efficient, we invented shelfware

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It has always amused me that we work in an industry that has built up such a bad reputation for overselling that we actually coined the phrase "Shelfware".

To be fair and accurate about it, buyers are just as guilty as sellers here, and they often bulk-buy licences for software and services with little consideration, seldom stopping for a moment to count the real cost or purpose until it's too late.

Over the years buyers have invested heavily in future enterprise rollouts of big business applications, often to find a year or two on that only a very small number (in some cases zero) of the huge volume of licences they paid for ever actually get used. True, the recession brought some long overdue belt buckling, and this chilly economic climate has made a few enterprises look a little more closely at where their budget is going, but overall spending remains profligate.

Indeed the viral growth of seemingly low-cost cloud services is currently driving another surge in reckless spending, and it really is time to put the brakes on and get some control back. I mean, let's be serious: when an enterprise tells me that they have 20,000 SharePoint installations or that they think (they never actually know) that large parts of their organisation have Dropbox I have no reason to doubt them. What I do have reason to doubt though is whether many of those instances are actually in use - and of those that are in use, how many of them serve a useful purpose?

End users can so easily provision their own software instances today that many get a bit carried away. It usually starts with good intentions - a new project for example – but once the initial enthusiasm is gone, so too is the use of the new service.

Long after you've all stopped using the kit, IT is still coughing up for it

Of course IT carries on paying for it one way or another, they always do, and usually for a very long time indeed. It’s a problem most IT departments are acutely aware of, and feel they can do little to resolve, but I believe that will start to change.

(Note: It's worth remembering that when an industry analyst like me says things are just about to change and indicates that they will do so in a year or two – it's probably going to take many more years than that in reality.)

But change is on the horizon no matter how distant, and I believe that the coming change will offer the channel some very interesting growth opportunities.

Don't be IG-norant

Information Governance (IG) is a dull topic, and one that for years I have tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to avoid covering. The tedious discussions that typify IG, about who owns what information and why and what they should do with it, could likely be played through speakers to hyperactive schoolchildren, generating the same somnambulant impact as Ritalin. Trust me, I have lost many hours from my life in such tortuous discussions.

IG is usually couched in legalistic terms. It's something you do so that your CEO won't go to prison, so that you remain compliant with regulation X or Y etc. Of course CEOs don't typically go to prison, even those that really need to, and many organisations take the approach that if they are in breach of this regulation or that they will fix the problem and at worst pay a small fine, a fine that is almost always much less than the cost of actually being compliant with the regulation in the first place.

But managing information properly and applying common sense policies and procedures can do more than keep the CEO out of prison. The process can give you control over your data, control over where you keep it, control over what you keep and what you don't. Today's data volumes mean that doing this sort of thing manually simply isn't an option anymore. IBM and HP in particular see the automation of IG as an area of immense interest and are investing heavily in it. Their investments and efforts will open up a lot of channel opportunities.

A number of small startups are developing ways of sniffing the network and parsing that information back in the form of dashboard-style reporting that simply states what cloud services are running in your enterprise, as well as who is running them.

Whether information governance will mean taking a policy and automating the classification of data - and then managing its lifecycle based on pre-defined rules - or simply providing actionable audit data of which customer has what in near real-time, IG will have its day.

In many cases we are talking about the application of technology that has been with us for years. In that regard this is nothing new. But what is new and radical is the move away from reactive IG practices, mopping up a disaster once it has happened, to a proactive approach - dealing with issues in real time as and when they occur and planning to do so from the get-go. It’s a complete 180° turnaround in approach and perspective.

From a channel standpoint, the one disappointment here is that Microsoft is way behind the curve on IG. Then again, filling the gaps left open by Microsoft in its products has long provided a healthy ecosystem for VARs to address, so it is perhaps no bad thing.

TV's The Biggest Loser assumes giving its contestants the chance to get control of their lives is a far easier and more productive sell than telling them to eat less because it's good for them.

IG is using that same pivot point, giving control back to IT, giving them an insight into what people are spending their money, what's really running on their network and automating the tedious, time consuming and thankless, but ultimately rewarding tasks of lifecycle management. This is a big contrast to trying to convince an IT director that their CEO might go to jail due to the department's shoddy data management activities.

In other words, we are looking at a technical revolution simply driven by people looking at things from a different perspective – from a reactive approach to a proactive one. But it’s a revolution nonetheless and one that will have a profound impact on our world. ®

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