What to do when a client won't properly license software

If a client tries to cut corners by pirating software, your IT consultancy should consider taking these recommended steps.

IT consultants often find it difficult to say no to their clients. For instance, IT consultants sometimes go along with clients' cost-cutting requests that ultimately complicate the project. One situation in which it should be easy to turn down a client's request is when it comes to properly licensing software.

Some clients may ask you to deploy OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office; there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the software's licensing terms are honored. Other clients may ask you to: transfer OEM licenses from old machines to new workstations, deploy the same license twice, or load a pirated Microsoft Office 2007 Enterprise license scavenged from Google on a system you're reinstalling ("but it was there before, why can't you just reload it now?"). Ultimately, an IT consultancy should not want these clients.

But that's not to say that clients who initially hesitate to write a large check for software license expenses are hopeless -- far from it. Those clients usually just need to be educated, and that's part of your job as a technology consultant.

No one wants to be a chump

Ensure clients understand they're not the only ones on the block paying to properly license their software. I've had clients tell me that no one really pays for their software -- who could afford it? That's when I explain, as professionally as I can, that they're the one being the chump by trying to get something for nothing.

No one wants to pay stiff penalties

Organizations don't need to run multinational piracy rings to get in trouble. You should explain to the client that it just takes one disgruntled employee to report the company to the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which regularly files civil lawsuits that result in significant financial penalties.

No one wants operations delays

A big factor that complicates recovery efforts when a system or a server fails is the inability to locate licenses required to reinstall critical applications, office software, and financial programs. By properly licensing and recording license and registration information, it helps eliminate delays when replacing failed systems.

What your consultancy can do

If clients persist and refuse to properly license software, here are steps your office can take:

  • Review for the client again, in writing, the legal steps required to properly license the software in question.
  • Refuse to load, install, or support any software applications for which the license is known to be pirated.
  • Remind clients that properly licensed software enables recovering much more quickly from unanticipated failures.
  • Ensure clients understand that the majority of organizations, particularly those that enjoy sustained success, purchase and license their software programs.
  • Assist clients in preparing annual budgets that include the costs of required software licenses.
  • Inform clients that actively pirate software that your organization can no longer service their needs. It's unlikely the client understands the importance IT plays within their business, or that the client will make other investments necessary to properly power its company's systems, operations, and success.

No dilemmas

You should jettison deadbeat clients that try to cut corners by pirating software -- those clients are not going to be a good long-term fit for your consultancy anyway. I recommend trying the methods outlined in this article, and if that doesn't lead to progress, you should cut your losses early.

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By Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...