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Wednesday23 July 2014

The software generation game

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Discover how to update-proof your practice

Architects that have been in practice for a number of years will be familiar with the treadmill of expenditure on software. Before you have recovered from a round of investment, the software has been updated and if you are unlucky the new version uses a different file format, making it awkward to use alongside the older version.

Expansion of the business means additional licences are required and you end up juggling the merits of downgrading the new software, upgrading all the old software or living with a mixture of new and old.

Software maintenance contracts offer a solution to managing expenditure, and are available for most of the common software used by architects. Instead of intermittent large capital expenditures, you sign up to a fixed fee over a number of years for the rights to upgrade to major new releases.

Autodesk has a Software Support & Maintenance Programme for products such as Autocad and Revit, while Bentley has Select for Microstation and Bentley Architecture Products. As the cost of these types of software is comparatively high, the annual maintenance fees (typically between one-eighth and one-tenth of the purchase cost) represent a good way to maintain the investment you have made in the software.

Nemetschek’s lower-cost Vectorworks cad products can be similarly protected with the Vectorworks Service Select programme. While the value of the investment in Vectorworks may not be as great as in other cad programs, the incremental changes to the Vectorworks file formats means that maintaining a single software version is imperative to team working.

Most of these maintenance programmes offer some form of enhanced support and online help. They are also often sold as part of volume software licensing. Volume licensing replaces the idea of separate licences for each individual copy of a software package with a single licence key deployed across multiple instances of the same software. Volume licensing may not be cheaper to purchase than individual boxed copies — in some cases it can be significantly more expensive — but it can have management advantages.

Downgrade the new software, upgrade the old, or live with a mixture of both?

Software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite does not allow users or administrators to readily determine the licence used in the deployment. The potential of a single licence key to make licence management and the deployment of standard disk images across an office considerably more efficient is significant.

Microsoft’s volume licensing for its Office products option comes in two flavours: its Open Licensing Agreement can provide a maintenance contract and a volume licence over two years for copies of Office but at a significant additional cost to the boxed copies.

The capital cost of Office is not as great as that of cad and the frequency and operational significance of upgrades is less significant. The alternative, Microsoft Open Values Subscription, provides a three-year rental agreement as an alternative to purchasing. The annual costs of this are more attractive and illustrate an alternative rental rather than purchase model for software investment and licence management.

Software licence rental leads towards the path of internet-based software: cloud computing. This may become the preferred model for software provision in future, but given current internet speeds and the needs of most architects this is still some way off.

In the meantime software maintenance agreements represent a useful way of improving software management.

Hugh Davies, co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies

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