What should be free and what should you pay for?

Figuring out what’s what in Enterprise software is tough, and it is definitely no easier when it comes to choosing Enterprise 2.0 tools.

So, a question comes up: What should you pay for, what should be cheap, and what should be free?

What should you pay for?

Support
This is a lot more critical than you realize. Having reliable and reasonably priced support is critical to making sure that you don’t disappoint your users.

Vendors used to traditionally “milk” their customers when it comes to support fees. This is changing as more and more minor support issues are handled by user communities. This is an example of Enterprise 2.0 eating its own dogfood. Vendors and consultants are then able to offer much more focused technical support without having to worry as much about the “It’s all in spanish?!?!” calls.

Data Backup and Accessibility
Most people would say that this should be free. I agree: It should be. But it is also something I am more than willing to pay for. Ideally, you can set up an external repository, such as an Amazon S3 account or a private file vault inside your own datacenter. If you are using a SaaS vendor, then they should automatically back up to this external repository in a non-proprietary XML format.

The reason that you should pay for this is so that you can ensure some sort of minimum service level. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to find out that all your backups are a week old.

User Experience
We all like to think that design comes cheap. And sure, you can go on Elance and get a cheap graphic designer who can make something reasonably pretty. The truth is however that because every organization is different, you are going to use software in different ways. You need to be willing to invest in the User Experience if you plan to keep your users happy.

Many pieces of new software look really nice, but when you start using them, the experience degrades quickly. Non-standard interfaces and poor design decisions are the primary culprits.

Future Innovation
This is a hard one to measure, and you can only really base you decision off past performance. Will this vendor or developer keep innovating and updating tools in the future? The reason you need to be willing to pay for this is that they need to put food on the table as well.

What should be cheap?

Hosting
I believe that hosting and provisioning costs should be broken out and separated from software cost. Current SaaS pricing models obscure the hosting cost and bundle application delivery in with the cost of the actual software. This is a mistake for a few reasons, but the primary one is that highly reliable vendors cannot easily differentiate their service level from a cheaper alternative. Everyone makes the claim “99.99999% uptime”, but it actually means very little.

If single vendors allowed multiple choices for delivery, then the customer could choose what their comfort zone is in terms of cost.

Integration
Integration is not a simple matter, but this is where your own IT folks need to play nice. You should expect them to know what the integration points are in your current infrastructure and they should be familiar with how to do that integration. Whether it is a link on a Sharepoint site, or access to an LDAP server, those options should not be difficult to execute on.

What should be free?

Design Patterns
There really is no such thing as Intellectual Property in the Enterprise 2.0 world. The difference between one vendor and another is not that they know more than the other, it is execution and design capability. Some vendors are incompetent when it comes to integrating features, designing workflows and in paying attention to the overall flow and “tightness” of the product. Do not let yourself be sold on “proprietary” anything.

Community Support
Low level support provided by other users and the vendor itself should always be free.

Deployment Speed
There should be no premium to pay to get tools deployed quickly. Vendors should be ready to deploy a base platform immediately which can start adding value to your organization.

What do you think

There is no way I covered everything here. What do you think? What should be free? What should be cheap? What should customers pay big money for?

5 thoughts on “What should be free and what should you pay for?

  1. Great article. I think that people want and expect Integration to be cheap and Deployment to be free but that is certainly not the current or even near future state of things. Big Enterprise Integration is still huge business companies like ERP-Link (http://www.erp-link.com/) are proof of that.

  2. Expensive:
    99.999% uptime
    Integration
    App customization
    Heavy system use (100,000 tx per day)
    Large user base (10,000+ users)

    Cheap:
    99.9% uptime
    Moderate system use (10,000 tx per day)
    Moderate user base (1,000+ users)

    Free:
    99% uptime
    Light system use (1,000 tx per day)
    Small user base (100+ users)

  3. Expensive:
    ROI (Great)
    Support (1-2hrs)
    Features (Heaps)

    Cheap:
    ROI (good)
    Support (24hrs)
    Features (standard)

    Free:
    ROI (none, ie: Twitter)
    Support (none)
    Features (few)

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