When it comes to free software, there is often a catch. As more legacy enterprise software companies jockey to become relevant in the cloud, the competitive environment is increasingly intense. To quickly expand cloud offers, these large vendors often buy smaller companies with cloud-native point solutions. The goal is to broaden their catalogue of offerings, but these offerings are often not designed exactly to meet business needs. And then comes the deal: switch to this software for “free.”

 

Is free software ever really ‘free’?

But, getting free software can easily be compared to getting a free puppy. While taking home a puppy may seem like an easy decision for some, it will not take long before the puppy no longer feels so free. On top of chewing the furniture, it will rack up endless costs in the form of required vaccinations, puppy food, and boarding costs at the local kennel. While it might seem very different, the same goes for accepting free software switch offers.

Behemoth vendors, with thousands of SKUs, see a need for speed to expand their cloud offerings – and as mentioned earlier, this often results in customers trading away a trusted and reliable solution from large software companies to a smaller company with an offering that is not suited to the business. In reality, free turns out to not actually be free. As such, smaller companies need to consider these four questions before acting on what looks like a good software deal:

1. What hidden costs will result from the change?


When it comes to “free implementation” or services offers, depending on the length and complexity of implementing and integrating the system, there is sure to be an impact on time and productivity. Migrating data and configuration from existing systems, as well as addressing integration and compatibility issues, is inescapably costly. In addition, businesses should consider the time and investment required for training users throughout the company. Indeed, there might be costs for additional services to compensate for a system that is not suitable.

2. Will people use it?


What originally seems like a great deal can turn out to be very costly in the long run if a complex system, that few people want to use, is set up. Instead of deterring broad user engagement, business technology should optimally encourage it. The true value of any solution is its ease of use and relevance to users. In order to enhance company-wide performance and make a business more competitive, it is critical to engage end users with the software they need to use on a daily or weekly basis. Otherwise, this “free” software adds no value.

3. Does the product fit the business’ needs and goals?


How a new solution aligns with the needs and goals of an organisation is very much tied to its ease-of-use. For example, if an organization is driving toward a model for more collaboration between finance partners and functional leaders, its software should align with that goal. If the solution is free, however, there is a high chance of it being an off-the-shelf offering from a large organisation that may not be optimized for collaboration or support the level of communication or data exchange an organisation needs. The product might represent a small percentage of the software company’s focus. This can’t compare to the benefits that come with using a solution designed from the ground up to solve specific challenges facing a business. Otherwise, free software actually costs the business in terms of productivity and missed opportunities and ultimately unachieved goals.

4. Are support and service given up for price alone?


Any new software comes with new issues, and as they arise the vendor of the software will have to be contacted. Vendors of free software are unlikely to have members of their support teams specialise on any one product, however, opting instead for a general training of many of its products. This is a clear downside for most businesses, as it loses out on a point-of-contact who understands everything about its product and works for a company that is solely focused on solving challenges and goals for a specific challenge or function. Good support also depends on whether or not the provider is able to respond consistently to customer feedback and is committed to innovating the product based on that feedback, rather than balancing input across hundreds of different product priorities. There is a good reason to doubt that vendors of “free” software are able to provide just that.

Ultimately, for any business considering new business software, the above questions can all as a clear guide for determining the true costs of “free.” Put simply, everything is not always as it seems, and there are distinct benefits to going through the pros and cons of any decision rather than giving into impulse – whether it relates to free puppies or software.

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Rob Douglas, VP for UK & I for Adaptive Insights As vice president of Adaptive Insights for the UK and Ireland, Rob is responsible for leading operations and customer satisfaction within the UK and Ireland market.  With more than twenty years in the financial planning and data analytics industry he is completely adept at understanding customer painpoints with legacy systems and is a specialist at identifying ways to alleviate these.  Prior to his role at Adaptive Insights, Rob spent more than seven years at IBM within their Business Analytics unit, following IBM's acquisition of Cognos, where Rob had spent nearly five years working with companies to do more with their data.