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How Unilever took control of its software

Karl Flinders

Unilever has automated the processes it uses to manage its software globally through a service which has saved millions of pounds, reduced the complexity of its software portfolio and improved security.

Savings from software de-duplication are massive but are only the beginning, with more effective software licensing and management also providing more security and less complexity.

For the last three years Unilever has been using software and services from software asset management (SAM) service provider Business Continuity Services (BCS). Unilever, which has about 100,000 desktops and 10,000 servers, uses software known as Software Organiser, which takes audit data gleaned from scanning tools and matches it up to the company's software licenses. It also uses a service known as the Global Universal Software Library, which is a database of 200,000 software products. This helps Unilever understand how the software they have should be treated, for example does it need a licence or is it a security risk?

When Unilever ran an audit using BCS services it found 60,000 different software products. Using the SAM services it has rationalised this to 4,500 commercially licensable products and 800 that do not require licenses but need to be managed.

Prior to hiring the services of BCS, Unilever carried of software asset management manually. It used commercially available scanning tools such as Microsoft's systems management server (SMS) and then human resources would go through a lengthy process of checking they are licensed. With about 60% of the information delivered by a software scan not requiring any attention there is a great deal of time and money wasted manually checking. The BCS software automatically removes this information from the results presented.

Unilever still uses scanning tools such as SMS but has bought 5 licenses to BCS software and services for its internal SAM team. The Software Organiser does the matching and the Global Universal Software Library will give a deeper insight into the software being used and enable Unilever to make decisions based on hard facts. "Until you get a handle on the assets you cannot do anything," said Dave Hopkin, global SAM tools and process manager at Unilever. "Software can grow out of control."

Hopkin said to achieve the same results as the BCS service Unilever would have had to spend a massive amount of man hours. "The sheer amount of data it produces requires a huge resource to understand and turn into information."

It now runs an audit every month. In the past it would true-up licences for major suppliers every quarter and less often for other suppliers.

The service also provides standardised tools and processes that Unilever can implement globally. Previously Unilever had no standardised processes and tools, which was increasing costs because it could not transfer methods to different or new units. "It was being done on a regional basis and we were not getting economies of scale," said Hopkin.

Although the corporate benefits are clear recent research from Gartner shows that uptake of SAM-specific standards and frameworks is low.

To make SAM work Hopkin says it is essential that senior management back the project. "Until you get the management buy-in it will never work," says Hopkin.

And there are many business selling points. Hopkin says advantages of SAM services go beyond de-duplication because they help companies better understand the software they have. For example Unilever had 1500 licences for software, at £400 each, but discovered only a fraction needed the functionality and only needed the free version.

He says the fear of using software that is not licensed is usually the main reason corporates turn to SAM. "Most people start off worrying about compliance then they start to look at other things they can do to get value for the organisation. The threat of non-compliance is always a good leaver for people."

Unilever spends tens of millions of pounds globally on software licences every year and before the new SAM process was introduced it was taking the software scans at face value and just ensuring it had a license for everything it had. This meant it was paying for software it does not use in many cases. It also meant software that did not require was often ignored, which could put the company at risk of a security breach.


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