The Cost of Free Software

Who doesn’t like free? But when it comes to free, there’s always some kind of catch, particularly in the free software industry.

Who doesn’t like free?

But when it comes to free, there’s always some kind of catch, particularly in the software industry.

The idea of getting free software has been compared to getting a free puppy. The analogy goes something like this: One day outside of the grocery store you stumble upon a litter of free puppies. Before you know it, along with your groceries, you’re headed home to introduce your family to an adorable new pet. With visions of a playmate for the kids, walks in the park, and a furry companion on the couch, you’re confident you made the right decision.

But the reality of this adorable little puppy is that she:

  • Chews up your couch, and any shoe within sight.
  • Requires a litany of vaccinations.
  • Chooses your nice new carpet over the backyard when nature calls.
  • Devours mountains of puppy chow as she triples in size.
  • Racks up hefty boarding costs at the local kennel when you travel.

And before long, that free puppy no longer feels so, well, free.

Now consider a free software switch offer. As more legacy enterprise software companies scramble to become relevant in the cloud, the competitive environment is more intense than ever before. To build cloud offerings quickly these behemoth vendors, with thousands of SKUs, buy up smaller companies with cloud-native point solutions. Their end game is to ultimately add you to their catalogue of mediocre offerings. Sadly, customers end up trading away a solution they trust and rely upon, which was designed exactly to meet their business needs.

In other words, free is not really free. So, before you act on what looks like an amazing software deal, here are four questions to consider:

1. What are the hidden costs of change?

Consider “free implementation” or services offers. Depending on the length and complexity of implementing and integrating the system, there’s sure to be an impact on time and productivity. What about migrating data and configuration from existing systems as well as addressing integration and compatibility issues? Then there is the time and investment required for training, both for the finance team and other users throughout the company. And finally, you might have to pay for additional services to compensate for a system that’s not quite right.

2. Will people use it?

If you end up with a complex system that few people want to use, then what originally looked like a good deal could cost you in the long run. At a time when everyone across your business is focused on planning, your technology should encourage broad user engagement and collaboration, not deter it. The true value of any solution is its ease of use and relevance beyond just the finance team. Resistance from end users will have a far-reaching impact on your company’s ability to collaborate and strategize in ways that enhance performance and make you more competitive.

3. Does the product fit your needs—and goals?

Closely associated with the ease-of-use hurdle is how the new solution aligns with the needs and goals of your organization. For example, if you’re driving toward a more collaborative model where finance partners with functional leaders, will the features of the new solution help facilitate that goal without spiking costs? Not likely. You’ll be getting an off-the-shelf offering from a large organization with thousands of generic, mediocre solutions. Your product might represent 2% of the behemoth’s focus. Now compare that to an expert company that offers a single solution designed from the ground up to solve the very challenges facing your business. There is no comparison!

4. Are you giving up support and service for price alone?

Think about calling your new vendor when you have a problem. How many of its support team are solely focused on your product? Probably very few. The support person you finally reach will have been trained on many of its products, not just yours. Wouldn’t you rather talk to someone who understands everything about your product, because they work for a company that is solely focused on your business planning challenges and goals? You should also consider whether the provider will be able to respond consistently to customer feedback. And will it be committed to innovating your product based on that feedback versus balancing input across hundreds of different product priorities?

Answering all of these questions will help you determine the true costs of “free.” Instead of making an impulse decision to bring home a puppy, you’ll be clear-eyed knowing the pros and cons of any choice you make.

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