Shelfware costs U.S. companies $12.3 billion, survey of guesstimates shows

Real problem of unused licenses measured only approximately in new poll

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A penny saved is a penny earned, especially if the penny is one of trillions wasted on software no one ever uses.

According to a poll from software vendor 1E software, companies in the U.S. waste $12.3 billion per year on maintenance for software no one ever uses.

IE is trying to sell a new asset- and license-tracking software designed to limit waste on shelfware, so its motives aren't pure. Its survey methods weren't terribly precise, either, but the poll does make a good point.

The critical result comes from a question asking respondents if they agree they have more than $100 worth of unused software installed on each PC. Four out of five said yes; even more said they pay for licenses for software that isn't even installed.

The average value of unused software per PC was $414.50, not including shelfware, the survey found.

That probably overstates the case a bit; asset managers regularly complain that business-unit managers order software for everyone who might need to use it, rather than carefully determining who really does need it and re-evaluate that need regularly. Business unit managers often consider this a waste of their time.

The estimate also doesn't seem to take into account enterprise licenses that might let business units give everyone a copy of the app whether they need it or not.

The estimate only refers to maintenance costs, not the original acquisition cost, which makes the number a little more realistic.

Most companies don't do a good job of tracking real use of software compared to theoretical use – giving employees access to an app based on job description, for example, not what the actually use to do their job.

Most also don't do a good job of retroactive license evaluation – checking every year or six months to see what apps each employee actually uses so they can grow or shrink their license counts appropriately.

Some are starting to get better control by streaming some apps on demand rather than installing them. That method is more popular than full virtual-desktop installations, but it's still far from the rule, even in process-intensive, budget-minded organizations.

The caveat is the method and motives of both sponsors and participants:

The poll is based on 500 surveys of IT people at companies with 500 employees or more. The per-PC waste estimate was an educated guess in each case, not a calculated average for one department, or an average of waste in all departments, or even an audit of one person's PC.

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