A 2002 Standish Group study of software projects found that 45% of features were never used and only 20% features were used often or always. We base our software investment decisions on the number of features a product has and then we fail to utilize 80% of those features. Does that make sense to anyone?

I bet you already think software is expensive. It’s even more expensive than you think because the majority of us are using a small fraction of what we bought. This isn’t even taking into consideration the “shelfware” phenomenon that is prevalent in every industry, print is no exception. What is shelfware? It’s that software investment you made which never got deployed, sometimes it never got unpackaged – so it’s sitting on the shelf. I’ve come across shelfware (never deployed) where the printer spent north of six figures.

What’s the solution to breaking the trend with software investments? We have to think about technology as more than a simple investment in the technology itself. The investment is really more about your business strategy and your people (those humans that are required to execute using the technology to create the results you desire from your strategy). Today our investment approach to technology is upside down, with too much emphasis on the technology itself.


Figure 1: Our over emphasis on technology prevents us from optimizing our investment.

In order to optimize our software investments, we need to clean up our act both upstream and downstream from the actual technology decision. The good news, this is 100% in your control. The bad news is you can’t blame the software or the vendor if you purchase software with no business strategy and no execution plan. The real emphasis in a software investment should look more like this; with the business strategy and the execution plan getting way more attention than the actual software technology decision.


Figure 2: The software decision in the correct perspective

One of the most common decision points we get involved with is when printers want to dump one software investment for different one. In most cases this scenario perfectly describes the common decision bias of narrow framing. Your decision isn’t simply toss your current software and buy another one, very rarely have I heard a printer say, we’re going to reset the whole project and do it right this time with the same technology. In this scenario, they aren’t simply pointing to the software as the issue; they are potentially seeing that they could have done things differently or better to produce more productive outcomes.

“Studies suggest that as much as 90 cents of every dollar invested in software is wasted because the employees using it don’t have the training and knowledge to use it properly and efficiently.”

— Tony Bradley Processor.com

Business strategy, execution plans, training plans – all “in the weeds” details, who wants to think of all that stuff? I just want to buy the latest and greatest technology, believe the sales pitch that it will change my business and move on! We have all fallen prey to this delusional belief. We all should know better. Software technology does not change anything about your business; but trained and skilled people using software technology can create massive leverage in your business. The people part is critical. The kind of leverage you want to create is your strategy.

Invest more in the strategy and the execution plan and your shelfware can be resurrected to produce the return on investment you bought it for. Don’t go out and buy another piece of technology – it’s the definition of insanity. First look long and hard at your business strategy and your execution plan. If you think they are nailed down, go ask three different people in your organization about what your strategy was for the last software purchase you made – are they aligned? Do they look at you in disbelief? Do they answer at all?

Software isn’t magic; it’s just a powerful tool. Think of it as an electric drill vs. a screw driver, when in properly trained hands it can be way more efficient. When in untrained hands it can be dangerous.