I've found myself asking this question a few times in the last few weeks. I'm not sure I have an answer.

In days of yore, software was a pretty physical product. My working experience goes back to the days of floppies, then CD-ROMs, and then (for a very brief period) DVDs. By that stage the internet as a distribution platform for software had happened, and the discs had disappeared.

But through the era of the disc an entire distribution industry was established. Mostly US companies used a network of companies across the globe to deal with the icky business of actually transacting with customers. In the pre-internet, software as a physical object days, this made sense.

At the same time that this was happening, a multi-headed hydra known as software licensing models started to make itself known. Because of course whilst it looked like you were buying a box with some discs in it, what you were actually buying was a limited set of rights to use the software that was contained within. These complex licence agreements then started to mutate into support agreements (usually a promise to try and fix problems that the manufacturer has created in the first place) which in turn turned into behemoths like Enterprise License Agreements and Software Assurance Agreements, a set of double-speak of Orwellian proportions. Oh, and has produced a way of packaging and pricing products that is usually top of most customers' lists of things that they hate.

(As an aside, and as someone who has extensive experience working in the media industry, I've frequently had to bite my tongue when software industry people have gone on about how complex media rights seem to be. Complexity in media rights is mostly due to multiple ownership of underlying intellectual property. Complexity in software licensing rights is mostly down to opportunistic product positioning by software companies.)

All of this has resulted in a software reseller market that seems to primarily be about being a broker of virtual intellectual property rights that neither vendor, supplier or customer really understand.

Then came Software as a Service which meant moving from a model of buying the rights to use some software to buying the access to use the software.

Four years ago I got into an interesting discussion with a sales person from Google about why I should use a reseller to buy their products. I couldn't, and still can't, see the value in paying someone else to fill out a few forms on a website when I could quite easily do it for myself. My only grouch was that I didn't pick up the commission that was paid to the reseller.

If there is an industry that is in need of a digital transformation, it's the software industry. Putting aside some of the new entrants, many others have populated their sales teams with staff from the old guard to give themselves "enterprise" credibility, and old methods have crept in as a result. Moving traditional on-premise software products to become Software as a Service isn't merely a technological change - it's about fundamentally rethinking the value proposition for customers, and that includes all of the distribution model and the way in which services are priced and sold.

I'm not sure that many of the old guard really have got this yet. Everyone's branded themselves Cloud, but how many have really stepped out of the reseller/licence model that stems back to the days of disc? And if I were a software reseller these days, I'd be seriously looking to diversify before these cash cows arrive at the abattoir...