Two months ago we requested your help in collecting some data about your processes, plans and challenges in electronic software distribution. This week, we share some of the results of that survey, particularly as they relate to outsourcing of the ESD function.One of the first, and most striking, responses we received was that ESD is not nearly as ubiquitous as most observers might have believed. Some 25% of enterprises responding to the survey indicated that their primary means of software distribution is still manual, with IT organizations shipping diskettes or CDs to end users or physically sending technicians out to the desktop to do local installation.With a quarter of enterprises still relying on "sneakernet" for software distribution, it is not surprising to discover that the emerging class of third-party software distribution services - the outsourcing providers - have barely been discovered. Just 3% of survey respondents said they are using an external service provider for software distribution, although there are a number of such services on the market today.Could software distribution services be the wave of the future? With only 3% in place today, it would likely be a distant future. However, there are some indications that an external service provider could be helpful in achieving some of the goals that enterprises identified in the survey.For example, the survey demonstrates that IT organizations are now widely viewing software distribution as a part of a broader set of processes that includes a variety of different IT management functions. Some 61% of respondents said their organizations view software distribution as a part of a structured process for software management that involves integration with at least one other function, such as development, packaging, configuration management, metering, or software lifecycle management.In essence, this response indicates that enterprises no longer view software distribution as a stand-alone function, but as part of an integrated set of tools and processes for monitoring, troubleshooting and upgrading applications. This attitude is one that would favor the outsourcing trend, because many outsourcing services and third-party integrators have already developed methodologies for establishing and integrating these processes in an enterprise.Responses to the question, "what are your greatest challenges in software distribution?" tend to support this trend as well. In the survey, 42% of respondents said that their greatest challenge is integrating software distribution with other IT processes, such as configuration management, security management, software management and\/or electronic provisioning. This response outweighed the number two response - cutting IT costs - by more than 10%.Enterprise executives' response to the "challenges" question suggests that their organizations may not have the tools, skills and resources they need to integrate software distribution with other IT processes. Again, there are a number of third-party services and integrators that could provide those tools and resources, though IT executives apparently haven't discovered them yet.A third question also points to the integration challenge. When IT executives were asked to name the chief obstacle to their ESD efforts, 28% cited the fact that current software distribution tools lack integration with other IT management tools and processes. As with the first two questions, this integration might one day be delivered by a third-party service provider.Thus far, it appears that the outsourcing of software distribution is an idea whose time has not yet come. But if the goals and pain points of the IT organization continue to be the same, that time could be sooner, not later. The window of opportunity is there, even if the passersby haven't noticed it yet.