Monday, February 19, 2007

Lockout Software that Locks-In Customers

As an open source/standards advocate I have communicated the evils of vendor lock-in. I came across this example tidbit in Ed Foster's 2/13 GripeLine column in InfoWorld:

In 2003, the U.S. Air Force held an open bidding for a post-warranty service contract on about $80 million worth of Eaton Powerware UPS (uninterruptible power supply) equipment it had purchased. Air Force officials were surprised when Powerware informed them that proprietary service software is required to fully maintain the UPS equipment and that Powerware would not provide that software to any of the third-party bidders or to the Air Force itself.

The Air Force had no choice but to award the contract to Powerware, costing taxpayers more than $20 million over what other firms were prepared to bid.

The lockout software is essentially a laptop-based replacement for the physical instrumentation and controls that used to come on UPS equipment and is required for getting complete internal readings and calibrating performance settings. According the the report, the requirement is not disclosed in product literature, their web site, or anytime during the purchasing process.

While I have not heard of any library vendors that have resorted to this tactic, it does go to show what a vendor can and will do to protect market share and revenue stream.

As the tools to create applications become more mainstream, and standards become more open, this strategy is one that libraries need to be aware of. Those encountering such undisclosed licensing issues need to communicate their experiences to the rest of the community in order to prevent other libraries from falling prey to such tactics. Sphere: Related Content


Brenda Chawner said...

Eric, I know that some ILS vendors have an extra charge if their customers want to extract data in standard formats such as MARC or csv, for example if they're changing to another vendor. The vendor term for this is 'proprietary lock', and their argument is that extracting the data involves running programs that aren't included as part of the ILS package.

While I'm surprised that people sign contracts that allow this, I've heard of it enough times to know that it's not an urban legend. This tells me that we need to do a much better job of educating people about the issues, and establishing good practice guidelines.

Eric Schnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Schnell said...

Thanks Brenda! Our past decisions to embrace proprietary systems without question have not only cost libraries financially, they have limited our ability to innovate.

I long for the day when we can create a custom interface for the ILS that utilizes a Google search appliance to generate records using a simple holdings table and a WorldCat web service. As paradigms change we could toss away the interface (or the Google appliance, or any of the ILS modules) in lieu of the next emerging concept without touching anything else.