To Build or Buy a License Manager?

The Definitive Answer (according to us)
Independent software vendors who see the need for a software license manager face the universal question of whether to “build or buy.”

Hidden Demons (or should I say, daemons?)
The choice is not always obvious at first. There’s the notion that only a simple model is needed and “hey, we’re a software company, we’re smart, we know what we need, and my guys can whip this up over the weekend.”  Sure, if you limit the scope of the project, you could build a solution that addresses your current set of known requirements, but that attitude ignores many critical issues that may make you regret your decision down the road.

Change – Deal with it
To borrow from the famous diaper company’s motto, “Change Happens.”  A home-brew license manager must be designed to account for change – not just changes in operating systems and development environments, but also changes in end user preferences for licensing models and deployment methods. Almost by definition, successful off-the-shelf license managers, like RLM, are already designed to address a wide set of platforms, languages, vendor licensing policies and end user requirements. This added agility helps you to respond quickly to competitive pricing threats and to book orders with “funky” licensing requirements – without involving your engineering team.

Safety in Numbers, Big Numbers
When you design a license manager, your customers are the sole “guinea pigs.”  They are the only ones who can help you find bugs and improve performance in your licensing software.  With a third party license manager, you benefit from a huge user community banging away on the product ensuring maximum robustness across a more varied set of usage conditions.

OK, Who’ll draw the short straw?
If you decide to build your own license manager, who will write it? We have seen eager software engineers take on this challenging task only to quickly discover that it’s not as easy as it looks. More common is the dilemma of the “pigeon-holed” engineer who, after completing V1 of the licensing software, desperately wants to move on to a more interesting project. But, he is stuck maintaining his licensing system because he is the only one on staff who knows how it works. I wonder how long he’ll stay at this company?  Hmm?

Licensing Experts are Rare Birds Indeed
Successful third-party licensing systems, like the Reprise License Manager (RLM), are written by experts who have been in the trenches for decades (in our case, two decades, to be exact). They can spot what works and what doesn’t for ISVs and their customers. They are passionate about this technology niche, and take pride in solving difficult licensing challenges with ease. If you “buy” rather than “build,” these guys become your new in-house licensing experts.

Beep Beep Beep – Buzzword Alert!
Core Competencies – Time-to-Market – Opportunity Costs. These well-worn phrases remind us that we should stay focused on what we do well. Our software projects should be directed toward making innovative products more competitive. Time spent developing your own license manager will slow the progress toward that goal and will result in longer release cycles which may cause you to miss some important sales opportunities. When you choose a 3rd party license manager, the time you save could be used to widen your competive lead and to integrate licensing more tightly into your IT infrastructure.

Street Knowledge
You want to support not only standard licensing models, but you also want to leverage your customers’ prior experience with other licensed software to minimize their learning curve with yours. End customers are willing to tolerate a few different license managers, but not dozens.  If yours is significantly different from others, your prospective customers may reject your solution.  By the same token, your business may be more valuable to a potential suitor if your licensing is familiar to them.

These arguments are not new, but writing your own license manager went out of style with the “mullet” (“business in the front, party in the back”).  And don’t tell me you can’t afford a 3rd party license manager. Prices are now affordable for companies of all sizes.

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