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We Won't Pay!

There's a Dario Fo play called, "We Won't Pay," which begins with a housewive's rebellion: a group of housewives in the local store, angered by excessive and extortionate price increases, simply refuse to pay at the checkout counter and walk out with bags full of boodle.

The latest word out of Switzerland is that a group of SAP customers is going to try pretty much the same thing, for pretty much the same reason. When SAP sends them a bill for 18.3% maintenance, they've decided, they won't pay, either. They'll send SAP a check for 17&, and that will be that.

In the Dario Fo play, all the housewives grabbed and walked at once, so there wasn't much that management could do. The Swiss customers, I gather, are counting on much the same thing. SAP will have to sue each and every one of them to get the money, and they figure that's impossible.

But can't SAP cut off maintenance? The customers have lawyers who think not. Apparently, as long as they pay the old amount, SAP has to argue with them over the price increase, at least under Swiss law.

In the Fo play, the housewives come home with the food, and the husbands are outraged. They, the wives, shouldn't be stealing from the merchants. It's wrong. But the sympathies of the audience are entirely with the wives. The merchants are bullies and little better than thieves themselves, and at some point, they think, people have to stand up for themselves.

In the real life play that we're watching over in Switzerland, my sympathies are with the rebels. No, I don't think SAP is some caricature out of Russian labor posters. But I do think that even 17% of list (or the 22% of net that Oracle charges) is a heckuva lot, especially given how little is actually delivered. I can see paying some fair amount for insurance, advice, and bug fixes during the shakedown phase, but after that, I think you should pay less.

Until recently, I think most SAP customers agreed with me in their heart of hearts, but they also felt that they were getting new features periodically, and they were willing, in effect, to put in a little enforced investment in SAP's new development, especially when they'd signed a contract.

In the last 4-5 years, however, the apparent return on all this investment in the future hasn't been very great. (You would be appalled if I told you how much uptake there has been on most of the products that SAP has produced in those years.) So even 17% has been looking more and more onerous.

In that context, of course, a 30% increase in maintenance, even one spread out over a few years, imposed just as a worldwide recession looms, doesn't seem to be in the best of taste. And at least in Switzerland, customers have reacted by saying, "We Won't Pay."

In the play, of course, the housewives are stealing, and in the end, they return or pay for the stuff they ran off with. (The police, not surprisingly, are strongly on the side of the store.)

In real life, though, the outcome isn't so clear. Even a small band of Swiss customers can make it very expensive and difficult for SAP to enforce this increase. And, of course, if others joined them, it would become very difficult indeed.

Think about it. What would happen if you, too, said, "We Won't Pay." Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't be able to get away with it.

For more commentary see our blog or follow toppundit on twitter.

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