Every organization has “shelfware”
(software that has been put on a shelf). Whether an organization has 100,000
people or only one person, you can be sure there’s software sitting on a shelf
somewhere in the building. In some ways, shelfware is
like cholesterol. There’s a good kind of shelfware
and a bad kind of shelfware. The trick is to increase
the good shelfware and reduce the bad shelfware.
How does shelfware become shelfware?
There are actually a few different kinds of shelfware, some shelfware was
never used or never returned the value that was intended. Other shelfware was retired to its position only after it had
performed its service and was no longer needed.
For example, I once licensed a program called LinkBot Pro from Watchfire
that validates web references. This tool was invaluable in helping me validate
links in older versions of Que Publishing’s Official Internet Yellow
Pages. I bought the license, used it for the project, and then it became shelfware. This is a good form of shelfware
–software that more than provids its value and is
then peacefully put out to pasture.
On the other hand, I once purchased a copy
of The Macromedia Flash MX with the idea that I would use it to create a kind
of personal multi-media marketing message which showed writing samples, a
resume, and snapshots of projects. While this was a great idea and I spent tons
of time learning Flash and starting the development of the idea, ultimately the
software landed on the shelf because I couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to
do in the time that I had to invest. (In Macromedia’s defense, it probably had
a lot more to do with me than it did the product.)
Creating the good shelfware
The purchase price of software should be measured against
the value it can return, as in how much money it can make the organization (as my
experience with LinkBotPro) or how much time it can
save. If you measure it against the length of time that you’ll be using it you
may not be creating enough good shelfware in your
Limiting bad shelfware
Bad shelfware is software that
didn’t return the value of its cost before being placed on a shelf. This could
be the fault of the software, the organization, or the individual. Bad shelfware drains the organization of cash and drains IT of both
time and money resources resources that it needs to
help move the organization forward. It also seems to accumulate at a great speed.
Here are some ways that you can reduce the occurrences of bad shelfware.
Sometimes low barriers to purchasing software can be a bad
thing. If the barriers to purchasing software are too low, it may not seem
reasonable to install and test a trial version of the software. Instead you
just purchase it and, if it doesn’t work, it becomes shelfware.
Learni to use trials to verify
that a feature or aspect of a program works. It can be an important step in
When you can’t use trials, use a return policy
Some software doesn’t have a trial version, or the trial
version is so severely crippled that it’s not possible to use it to properly
evaluate whether the software will do what you need. That’s when you should
purchase with a plan for returning the software if it doesn’t work out.
This means keeping a close eye on all of the documentation
needed to return the software in the event that it doesn’t work. This might be
the original order number, the invoice number, or other information from the
time of purchase.
Consider a performance-based contract
A performance-based contract generally requires a larger
software purchase and requires that the software work in your organization or you
don’t pay for it. Performance based contracts are more prevalent in larger
software purchases and can be used to reduce the chances that your new
implementation will be a bad experience.