Obsolete, redundant and unused software applications are costing companies billions of dollars each year in unnecessary IT spending, according to new research.

BPM Forum surveyed 226 IT and business executives and found the majority say they aren't getting the most out of their enterprise software investments. That the forum exists to promote business performance management (BPM) technology may be coincidental.

Companies typically have no way of measuring return on software investments, no process for tracking what software is used, and no system for qualifying and certifying existing or new applications, according to the BPM Forum report.

When asked how often they conduct a company-wide software audit to see how many business applications are active on the network, just 25 percent of survey respondents said they do so once a year. More than 40 percent said they do it on an "as-needed basis", while 13.4 percent never conduct audits at all.

Processes for getting rid of out-moded software are scarce: 73 percent of respondents say they have no systematic processes for retiring applications.

Companies appear far more focused on bringing in new software than they are on tracking the value of applications after deployment, said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of BPM Forum. "I was very surprised at how little attention has been paid to the back-end part of the software lifecycle," he said. "The software lifecycle continues unabated even if it's not producing value. Very few companies seem to audit and assess the usefulness and relevance as applications as they age."

Without proper controls in place, far too much unnecessary software winds up being supported on corporate networks. Among respondents, 70 percent are convinced they're maintaining redundant, deficient or obsolete applications.

All that effort comes at a high cost: 35 percent of respondents estimate that unwanted applications consume between 5 percent and 15 percent of their IT budgets, and 23 percent of respondents say the tally is greater than 15 percent of their IT budgets.

Those IT assets could be redeployed to other projects, Neale-May says. "There's found money here if companies start to employ a more disciplined approach and methodology for looking at how software is aging and deciding when it needs to be eliminated."