If you’ve ever written a check for annual maintenance fees on software that is used infrequently or seasonally, you’ve probably wished for a different license model. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of options available today for gaining access to software, including hosted software in the cloud, pay-as-you-go software licenses, single seat or enterprise licenses onsite, and even free and open source software. Each model has pros and cons; the license you choose can have a long term impact on your business.

One model that is quickly gaining popularity is the pay-as-you-go license, which offers buyers the flexibility to pay for as much usage time as they need within some set ranges, as well as long-term scalability as a business grows. TopoDOT, a Bentley MicroStation application developed by Certainty 3D for importing and extracting topography and models from LiDAR point clouds, calibrated images and related data, is an example of a type of software available on a pay-as-you-go license.

“Our license program is based on a one-time fee plus ongoing maintenance that is calculated based on the number of days the software is used,” explains Ted Knaak, president of Certainty 3D. “If your operators log on to TopoDOT for the equivalent of 600 days in a year, you pay for 600 days of maintenance, rather than a fixed rate per seat for the year. Depending on the plan you purchase, there may also be a fee per day of use that exceeds your budgeted number, or you can purchase another block of 250 days for a fixed price. Unlimited online training, technical support and upgrades are included in the maintenance, and you can use the software on as many workstations as you want.”

Knaak said the highest-volume users of TopoDOT, in terms of days of use, are LiDAR data producers like Surveying Solutions Inc. (SSI). SSI delivers derived products, such as DTM and planimetric maps, to other engineering and surveying firms, as well as state departments of transportation. Once TopoDOT is installed, if projects require the use of TopoDOT, the software is available. If there is no need, there is no maintenance fee for the days it is not being used.

“This license model is perfect for us,” said Jeff Bartlett, SSI principal and project surveyor. “We are based in Michigan, so our road work is seasonal. There are times we need to ramp up our number of operators to meet demand. We use TopoDOT over 1,000 days in a year. It is very easy to track our usage by project, and it’s great to be able to work in the compressed .LAZ format right in TopoDOT while we do feature extraction and other work. We are even able to allot a certain number of use days to our clients so that they can log on and view the work in process. They can review and ask questions as we go along instead of waiting to see the final deliverable.” 

Systems companies that use the data for construction design activities also appreciate the pay-as-you-go model. Typically these large commercial entities gravitate to the Enterprise 1000 license, in which a discounted $10.50/day maintenance fee is charged for each day used. “In its third year with TopoDOT, HNTB is budgeting for 1,000 days of usage,” said Paul DiGiacobbe, associate vice president and director of strategic technology - incubation at The HNTB Companies. “We create 3D models of transportation structures, including break lines and DTMs, on very large design projects. We have spikes in demand, so the fact that training is included and the number of work stations is unlimited is very important to us.”

DiGiacobbe said the pay-as-you-go license model makes sense from a business standpoint. “Although we have a lot of operators working on projects at any given time, they may only need TopoDOT to work with LiDAR data at the beginning of a project,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about the software sitting there gathering dust because we’re only paying maintenance for the days we use. Even if we logged on every business day of the year, the maintenance fee is very reasonable.”

The more traditional single seat or site license model still has a place in the market, at least for now. However, for firms seeking new software solutions, the innovative aspects of the pay-as-you-go model are worth considering. “By calculating the annual cost based on actual use,” said Knaak, “we provide a software licensing option for firms specializing in transportation corridors and mobile mapping that directly links their project revenue to their expenses.”