Amy Fox of Enlighten Geoscience in Calgary wrote a LinkedIn post about software pricing a couple of weeks ago. I started typing a comment... and it turned into a blog post.
I have no idea if software is 'too' expensive. Some of it probably is. But I know one thing for sure: we subsurface professionals are the only ones who can do anything about the technology culture in our industry.
Certainly most technical software is expensive. As someone who makes software, I can see why it got that way: good software is really hard to make. The market is small, compared to consumer apps, games, etc. Good software takes awesome developers (who can name their price these days), and it takes testers, scientists, managers.
But all is not lost. There are alternatives to the expensive software. We — practitioners in industry — just do not fully explore them. OpendTect is a great seismic interpretation tool, but many people don't take it seriously because it's free. QGIS is an awesome GIS application, arguably better than ArcGIS and definitely easier to use.
Sure, there are open source tools we have embraced, like Linux and MediaWiki. But on balance I think this community is overly skeptical of open source software. As evidence of this, how many oil and gas companies donate money to open source projects they use? There's just no culture for supporting Linux, MediaWiki, Apache, Python, etc. Why is that?
If we want awesome tools, someone, somewhere, has to pay the people who made them, somehow.
So why is software expensive and what can we do about it?
I used to sell Landmark's GeoProbe software in Calgary. At the time, it was USD140k per seat, plus 18% annual maintenance. A lot, in other words. It was hard to sell. It needed a sales team, dinners, and golf. A sale of a few seats might take a year. There was a lot of overhead just managing licenses and test installations. Of course it was expensive!
In response, on the customer side, the corporate immune system kicked in, spawning machine lockdowns, software spending freezes, and software selection committees. These were (well, are) secret organizations of non-users that did (do) difficult and/or pointless things like workflow mapping and software feature comparisons. They have to be secret because there's a bazillion dollars and a 5-year contract on the line.
Catch 22. Even if an ordinary professional would like to try some cheaper and/or better software, there is no process for this. Hands have been tied. Decisions have been made. It's not approved. It can't be done.
Well, it can be done. I call it the 'computational geophysics manoeuver', because that lot have known about it for years. There is an easy way to reclaim your professional right to the tools of the trade, to rediscover the creativity and fun of doing new things:
Bring or buy your own technology, install whatever the heck you want on it, and get on with your work.
If you don't think that's a possibility for you right now, then consider it a medium term goal.