by Volker Weber

It takes a long time to build trust, and trust can be lost in a split second.

Lotus was a company that has always built on trust. Ever since the company learned that copy-protecting 1-2-3 only hurt their customers, Lotus has always trusted the customer. You can still download full versions of all their products from the web. They have time-bombed licenses but never time-bombed code. There is no difference between the demo version and the full version and I know that many people have a hard time believing that. This is just how the company ticks. The customer counts the licenses it needs to pay and does exactly that. There are certain ways that help the customer to determine if they have enough licenses, for instance by summing up people in the Domino directory, but that is only a tool and not a lock. And trust me, it is very very hard to understand the licensing scheme.

The rest of IBM is different. Demo version are generally time-bombed. You need keys to unlock certain hardware features, etc. But Lotus, although long a part of IBM, has always maintained its trust relationship with the customer.

It appears this is about to change right now. At least in Germany.

First a little bit of background. For the last two years IBM has had an agreement with KPMG that a customer can come to KPMG and ask for a license audit. KPMG sends in people who look at your current licenses and the IBM products you use and will tell you whether you are under- or over-licensed. IBM pays KPMG for that service.

What is happening now is that KPMG sends letters to all (?) IBM passport customers "suggesting" an audit. A certain IBM partner whose name I currently only wish to disclose to IBM -- this is subject to change of course -- sends out emails to same customers:

Subject: Lizenz-Audit für IBM Lotus Notes Domino Software

Sehr geehrter Herr x,

Sie haben die IBM-Software Lotus Notes Domino im Einsatz und sind sicher schon darüber informiert, dass die IBM ggw. gemeinsam mit der KPMG eine weltweite Lizenzplausibilisierung bei den IBM-Softwarekunden durchführt. Ziel dieses Programmes ist die Verbesserung der Kenntnisse der IBM-Kunden hinsichtlich der IBM-Lizenzbedingungen sowie die Überprüfung der Lizenzierung der IBM-Software.

- Sind Sie umfassend und ausreichend vorbereitet auf diese Lizenzplausibilisierung durch die KPMG im Auftrag der IBM?

- Wissen Sie, welche Lotus Notes Domino Lizenzen und andere Lotus-Software der IBM Ihr Unternehmen erworben hat?

- Sind Sie absolut sicher, dass die in Ihrem Unternehmen installierten Softwareversionen von Lotus Notes Domino mit den Informationen über erworbene Softwarelizenzen in den IBM Datenbanken übereinstimmen?

Sollten Sie sich nicht sicher sein, dann sprechen Sie mit uns - wir helfen Ihnen!

Das Team von xxx verkauft, installiert und administriert seit vielen Jahren im Auftrag der Kunden Lotus Notes Domino Softwareprodukte von IBM. Wir kennen uns aus und wissen, worauf es ankommt!

Nach dem xxx eigenen und Praxis erprobten Vorgehensmodell überprüfen wir für Sie in wenigen Schritten Ihren Lizenzstatus. Dafür benötigen wir nur wenige Informationen von Ihnen. Direkt in den Systemen der IBM können wir dann vergleichen, ob die in Ihrem Unternehmen installierte IBM-Software ausreichend lizenziert ist.

Diese Überprüfung ist für Sie freiwillig, kostenfrei und unverbindlich. Sie verpflichten sich zu nichts, bekommen aber von xxx eine eindeutige Aussage zu Ihrem Lizenzstatus. Damit sind Sie optimal auf die Lizenzplausibilisierung von KPMG und IBM vorbereitet und müssen nichts befürchten!

Don't mind translating this with Babelfish. It is along the lines of "We are from the IRS and we are here to help you". The very last sentence basically says: If you work with us, you have nothing to fear.

F-E-A-R ?


I F-E-A-R this is not the only Business Partner trying to improve the sales statistic with F-E-A-R. And I know partners are encouraged to act like this by IBM...

Alexander Kluge, 2005-06-28

some of our customers already experienced such licence audit.
And I can report that the people of KPMG act like they were from "Staatssicherheit" of former DDR... it's a very, very, very unpleasant experience for the customer.
And each of our customer tells us very, very clear: this behaviour DOES NOT motivate them to buy any IBM licence again. Never ever.

So if someone from IBM reads this: IBM may get some money from new licences. But they will loose much more money in the long shot because that customers will not buy IBM licences again.

Julian Buss, 2005-06-29

In the long shot? Sometimes small events can trigger bigger changes ... and not all business is based on financial business logic alone: I know a company, a Lotus customer for years, that in the middle of an internal quarrel about staying Notes or going Exchange was struck by a KPMG license audit. Well, whatever really happened, they experienced it like being struck - and did not buy the few missing licenses, instead started moving for Exchange, paying a much higher price for this migration.

Of course, nobody knows if the company wouldn't have abandoned Notes anyway, but the way it turned out we faced the weird situation of IBM paying KPMG for losing a customer.

Martin Domian, 2005-06-29

What about data protection? It seems that customer records are exchanged easily.

Adalbert Duda, 2005-06-29

Volker, don't you think it's naiv to build a business on trust only? This would work in ideal world or for small companies, where the boss knows each customer personally. But when you sell millions of licences without auditing, many of your customers will try to free ride. Of course you can question the legitimacy of the software licence business. But that's a diffent story.

Wolfgang Sommergut, 2005-06-30

No, I do not think it is naive. Lotus has done quite well with its trust model.

It seems to be pretty naive, if you would run your business on unlicensed commercial software. Of course some customers will try to get a free ride. Those that will steal from your competitor if not from you.

License audits are not new. As I stated this particular program has been around for two years. What is new however is that there seem to be a some managers who need to come up with better numbers really quickly. It looks like "helping" their customers is their resolution.

Volker Weber, 2005-07-01

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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