Some of the UK's largest companies have revealed the headaches they face in their relationship with database giant Oracle when it comes to software licensing.
The Campaign for Clear Licensing (CCL), which lobbies for clearer licensing for enterprise software users, spoke to more than 100 Oracle customers to ask them about their experience of Oracle's licensing. Just eight percent felt that Oracle clearly communicates licensing changes, with complaints centred around uncertainty over whether they comply with contract terms.
"Based on our research and conversations over the last six months, we have found that customers' relationships with Oracle are hostile and filled with deep-rooted mistrust," said Martin Thompson, founder of the Campaign for Clear Licensing and author of the report.
Here are the licensing issues Oracle customers most frequently report. CCL did include responses from Oracle to the survey findings in its report, but the database company declined to make further comment on the report to TechRepublic.
Uncertainty over licence compliance
Oracle reserves the right to audit a customer's compliance, typically every 12 months. However, clients said they often find Oracle does not provide them with enough information ahead of time to gauge whether they will meet the demands of an audit, with 88 percent of those surveyed by the CCL not finding Oracle audit requests easy to respond to.
Customers of the firm felt it did not provide sufficient information to determine whether they comply with licensing terms or to work out how future changes might affect them.
"The customer wants to measure compliance without being dependent on Oracle. However it appears that rather than a highly scalable set of autonomous customers - Oracle does not want to lose control for fear of losing sight of the next sales opportunity," said the CCL report.
Oracle responded to the claims saying it does provide clients with information on whether they are compliant with its terms and set out processes for customers to stay compliant.
No clear guidance on who to go to for assistance
When seeking clarification on licensing issues it is often unclear on which department to speak to, according to users.
Users cited a tendency for departments to hand them off, saying they were passed between License Management Services (LMS), sales and contracts teams.
When asked whether communication from Oracle had been clear and straightforward 92 percent of customers disagreed or strongly disagreed.
"The silo approach and passing issues between different departments within Oracle is very frustrating for customers," the report states.
"Organisations must accept that working with Oracle is difficult and involves significant due diligence and management overhead when doing deals and managing on-going risk."
Poor communication between departments results in "sales people not up to speed on the contract terms they are selling" and licensing changes not sometimes not being reported to customers, the report claims.
Oracle's LMS team was formed to promote "the management, governance and awareness of the proper use and distribution for Oracle systems". However only 22 percent of those surveyed agreed the LMS were helpful during the audit, contract renewal and negotiation process.
Oracle has a tendency to offer big discounts on bundles or consolidate renewals, customers report.
However, when a firm wants to drop an unused service from this collection they may find that Oracle does "not allow organisation to break up bundles at a future date", respondents warned.
"For efficiency savings at renewal time - separate out every product onto a separate order or get assurances in writing that bundle discounts will continue if items are removed at renewal time," the report recommends.
Watch out when renewing contracts
Oracle may change the terms of your agreement upon licences being renewed and those helping your firm renew, such as your account manager, may not be aware of the licence changes the report claimed.
Firms should proactively seek out changes after renewals, possibly using a specialist to clarify their implications. Terms can also change when a business upgrades a version of the products it is using, the report points out.
"Installing Oracle version upgrades sometimes turns on software features, such as the diagnostic and features packs, which trigger an associated increase in licensing cost. A company can significantly increase its Oracle spend during version upgrades without knowing it," said a Oracle user interview for the report. Oracle says "licensing terms does not change from an order".
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.