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Counterpoint: the SPA's view of the world.

Last month, we suggested that it's time for a "new agenda" for the Software Publishers Association, the industry's major trade association (Soft.letter, 6/25/93). We argued that the SPA has become increasingly unfocused and out of touch with the concerns of its rank-and-file members, and we offered a few ideas for making the association more responsive. (These ideas included relocating SPA headquarters to Silicon Valley, spinning off the anti-piracy program into a separate organization, reducing the time spent on "boondoggle" projects that benefit relatively few members, and creating separate annual conferences and research programs for the SPA's business and consumer constituencies.)

In the interest of fairness, we offered SPA director Ken Wasch space in this issue to tell his side of the story. We also planned to publish a forceful critique of the SPA by an ex-member who touched on issues we overlooked; however, Wasch convinced the author to withdraw his letter before we went to press.

Dear Jeff,

I would like to take a few minutes to respond to your front-page article about the SPA. By way of background, in June of 1992, you wrote to me and to the SPA Board of Directors complaining of the SPA's efforts to compete with private firms (such as yours) that provide conferences, industry research and other services. At that time, we indicated that the SPA would continue to modify our conferences, research efforts, and other programs to keep them current and of maximum value to our members.

Now, one year later, your concerns over the SPA's growing, and more valuable, services are apparently at the center of your suggestions for a new agenda for the SPA. While few of our 1,000 members would agree on all of the SPA's priorities, I believe that most recognize that the broad diversity of our membership requires a range of programs and services. Our goal isn't "empire building," as you suggest, but rather to provide services of value that our members request. Our members tell us that they desire a broader role for the SPA, rather than the narrower one you have recommended.

In responding to your suggestions, I would first note that while the SPA is situated in what you call the software backwater of Washington, D.C., we are nevertheless in daily communication with our members. We regularly receive feedback from our members through phone calls, SPA Action Alerts, quarterly meetings of the consumer, education, government affairs and copyright protection boards, and during and at the conclusion of every conference, as well as from a comprehensive annual membership survey and bi-annual member focus groups. We listen to the feedback very carefully and add new programs, or modify old ones based upon what we hear.

Overall, the trend at the SPA is the opposite of what you suggest. Our members tell us they want more and better market information, stronger intellectual property protection (including enforcement), more comprehensive conferences, and other services. Rather than asking us to retreat to providing a few select services, our members through their elected representatives, have asked for more activity in certain areas. For example, until recently, the software industry had minimal influence on vital issues of public policy. As a result of the software industry's rapid growth, and the accompanying growth of the SPA, the industry now has power and influence equal to that of older and more established industries. That influence has paid dividends to our members on everything from liberalization of export control laws, to strengthened intellectual property protection, and state funding for educational technology. The results of the software industry's new influence are only now being realized.

I'd like to respond to each of your four suggestions for improving the SPA:

* Spin off the software cops. The SPA anti-piracy enforcement and education programs are nothing short of a "home run" for our members--and many users are supportive as well. Our anti-piracy education program, which constitutes a far greater portion of our resources than our enforcement efforts, continues to reach millions of computer users every year. Our tools, such as SPAudit, corporate and school videos, and Software Management Guides are viewed by end users and educators as valuable tools for helping organizations grapple with the thorny problem of software asset management. We distribute nearly 500 copies of SPAudit free of charge every week. These free materials are all funded out of litigation and audit settlements. Many SPA members joined to ensure that their products are protected. Spinning off the SPA's anti-piracy efforts would deprive the SPA and its 1,000 members of a role in solving the most significant problem facing their businesses--the theft of their intellectual property. Why would an organization dedicated to protecting its members abdicate its responsibility on the issue that is most important to them? In addition, spinning off the anti-piracy activities would require companies to join two organizations instead of just one. Finally, the litigation settlements also fund legislative efforts to strengthen intellectual property protection here and abroad, so spinning off the division ultimately would result in higher dues to pay for those activities.

* Move to Silicon Valley. Washington is the hub of government, and therefore it is where we must be to look after the industry's pressing public policy interests. We could not accomplish our broad agenda, including tax reform, government procurement reform, educational reform, and strengthened intellectual property protection, from the west coast or anywhere else in the United States, or from a satellite office removed from the rest of the SPA. Many of our members are computer scientists and engineers who are not interested in spending their time lobbying for favorable laws. But legislation greatly affects their businesses, and they need to have an association that is watching out for their interests. That is why we are situated where we are. Being located in D.C., however, does not mean that we don't spend a great deal of time "listening to our members," including visiting them on their home turf to learn more about their needs and their businesses. While we love the Bay Area, less than 30% of our membership is located there. A move would therefore achieve no advantage for the SPA membership.

* Do a few things really well. Contrary to your suggestions, our research and other programs are not expanded to justify budget growth. Our flagship data programs are modified to better track software sales through the myriad distribution channels. Frankly, the "boondoggle" you referred to, the Pakistan and India report, is a cheap shot. You left your readers with the impression that the SPA is spending a significant sum of money to track software sales in a region about which few software companies care. Now, let's discuss the facts. In January of this year, the SPA expanded its international data program to cover about two dozen markets that we had previously not tracked. Those companies that sell software in India/Pakistan, or in any other of the new regions (Korea, Russia, Taiwan, etc.) can submit data about those markets. It is not a new data program for each country, it's a line item in an expanding, and very accurate program. The international data program is one of the principal benefits many firms receive from the SPA and we will continue to expand the program to all markets in which our members are active. Finally, your choice of terms is particularly misleading. There is no "boondoggle" involved in any of our research efforts; the cost of adding new countries to the existing international data program is de minimus.

* End the consumer-business war. The SPA has three sections, not two. They are: consumer, business and education. Contrary to your assertions, there is no quarrel among them, especially for resources. For the new fiscal year, each section was allocated the funds they requested to support their project plans; there was no war over resources. With respect to your criticism of the SPA Awards Program, yes, we make certain compromises that do not ensure universal happiness, but guarantee equity. With each section having roughly one-third of the awards, I hardly see how anyone's interests have been harmed.

In conclusion, we are in a dynamic industry and, like the companies we represent, we need to modify our programs to keep them current and valuable. As always, your suggestions and those of our 1,000 members are welcome. In the future, I hope you will specifically identify those projects or issues you believe the SPA should undertake and pursue or phase-out and abandon. You might also identify those "interest groups" to which we are allegedly beholden. Had you chosen to do that, you might have spurred a valuable debate over how our resources could be best employed for the broadest benefit.

In a few weeks, our annual membership survey will be completed by an outside contractor. we will be delighted to share those results with you.

Ken Wasch, executive director, Software Publishers Association, 1730 M St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036-4510; 202/452-1600.
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Title Annotation:Software Publishers Association Director Ken Wasch explains the organization's current goals and strategies
Author:Wasch, Ken
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jul 26, 1993
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