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Why Pay Software Maintenance Fees?

Ron Wincek

A client recently asked me about the ROI of paying for the maintenance fees of their authoring software. Here is my response:

It has been my observation in the 25 years that I have been creating technology-based training that the foundational elements (i.e. operating systems, browsers, Java, JavaScript, Flash support (or the lack thereof), HTML5, etc.) change so significantly that it renders development software obsolete in two to three years. So eventually you will need to either upgrade your current software or change to another development tool (which has the added expense of re-purposing existing content). It used to be that software could be upgraded at a nominal fee. Now, many companies ask for maintenance fees while sunsetting older products. Once a product is sunset, they typically require you to pay full price plus maintenance fees to get the latest version. It seems that many companies today only allow you to get two or three versions behind before requiring this.

My philosophy at IAC is to bite the bullet and subscribe to the maintenance fee even though it adds substantially to the cost of the software. I have seen maintenance fees run 25% to 50% of the retail cost of the software with an average of 33% per year. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is higher than what I am used to paying for but it is still lower when you figure in other benefits of maintaining the latest version. To put a positive spin on the maintenance fee, other than a steady revenue stream,  it provides software companies the revenue to improve their product by keeping up with the latest technology changes that enhance the user experience and increase developer productivity. In addition, new releases allow for bug fixes and feature enhancements. Some notable technology enhancements I have seen recently include support for HTML5 and its non-flash based interactions (which is great for mobile), support for Windows 8, updates to support latest browser versions, storyboarding tools, collaborative development, workflow management, team review, interaction builders, and Tin Can support. It is my observation that authoring companies are finally being competitive again and leap frogging each other with new and innovative features.

In summary, plan for obsolescence, include the maintenance fee as part of TCO and budget accordingly, maintain all upgrades, archive older releases of authoring software so you can find it easily, and view ROI as not only software costs, but also figure in developer time savings and as well as intangible benefits such as user experience enhancements.