Best practices in software asset management for a flexible, resilient IT

Managing software assets is vital in order to maintain a highly flexible and up-to-date IT platform and more importantly remain compliant

Just like intelligent management of a datacentre’s hardware assets is critical to see IT deliver business value, managing software assets is vital in order to maintain a highly flexible and up-to-date IT platform.

But more often, software is purchased by IT out of necessity and then forgotten, due to its intangible form. As Software asset management (SAM) tools evolve into complex systems, using them correctly can ensure that an organisation maintains its software assets to better meet the business needs and keep itself compliant with its software contracts.

As with hardware, the first step in software management is to carry out a full asset discovery.  The majority of systems management tools will be able to carry out this task but the capabilities of the systems may not provide exactly what is needed.

For example, some systems will only look within the datacentre. While this may be useful in identifying the number of licences being used across what software, this is only touching a small proportion of the applications and licences an organisation has. 

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Trawling across an organisation’s total estate of servers, desktops, laptops, tablets and other mobile devices has become a difficult task, particularly with bring your own device (BYOD) devices where licences may have been bought directly by the end user.

However, building up a full picture of what is being used brings in many different advantages.  Firstly, patterns of usage can be built up.  For example, is a specific group of employees using a specific application? Are employees carrying out the same tasks using different applications?

Secondly, the issue of licensing compliance can be addressed. Once a full picture of the application landscape has been established, IT managers can then assess how these have been licensed.

In many cases, organisations will find that they have a corporate agreement for licences, yet departments and individuals have gone out and sourced their own software – with licences costing much more than if they had gone through a central purchasing capability. Bringing these licences into the central system could save a lot of money and help businesses remain compliant.

However, it may well be that “golden images” have been used with corporate licences without any checks in place as to whether the number of seats implemented is within the agreed contract. 

Although this software discovery process can lead to extra costs for the organisation in bringing the contract into line with the number of licences being used, it will be cheaper than being fined should a software audit be carried out by the likes of FAST (Federation Against Software Theft).

The usage patterns identified may help IT save costs in another instance too. Many SAM tools will be able to report on when an application was last used by the employee.  In some cases, this may have been weeks or even months ago – in many cases, it will be apparent that the employee installed the software to try out and has never used it since. Harvesting these unused licences can help to offset the need to change existing contracts.

Thirdly, as long as the asset discovery tool is granular enough, it will be able to ascertain the status of the application – its version level, what patches have been applied and so on. This allows IT to bring applications fully up to the latest version and that patches have been applied where necessary. 

When combined with a good hardware asset management system, the overall hardware can be interrogated to ensure that it is capable of taking the software upgrades. Where this is not possible, the machine can be upgraded or replaced as necessary, or marked as a special case with the software remaining as is when further software updates are scheduled to run.

How to pick SAM tools

Good SAM tools should also be able to map the dependencies between software, tracking how a business process will use different applications as it progresses.  Again, through the use of suitable rules engines, these dependencies can be managed, such that the updating of one application does not cause a whole business process to fail. Also, possible problematic areas can be identified – for example where software has a dependency on the use of IE6 and so introduce security loopholes that could be exploited by hackers.

For most organisations, the main strength of SAM tools will, however, reside in the capability to manage software licences against agreed contracts. In many cases, this is not just a case of counting licences and comparing them against how many are allowed to be used. The domain expertise built up by vendors such as Flexera and Snow Software means that the nuances of contracts can be used to the best advantage. 

For example, through identifying all licences that are currently in place and the usage patterns around them, it may be possible to use concurrent licencing rather than per seat licencing. Here, licences can be allocated based on the number of people using an application, rather than on named seats, so bringing down the number of licences required considerably. If this is not an option, then it may be that by bringing all licences under one agreement, rather than several, a point may be reached where a new discount level is hit. 

For an organisation with, say 1,000 seats and 600 licences under one agreement, and four other contracts for 100 seats each, hitting the 1,000 seats under one contract may optimise the costs considerably, not just on licences but also on maintenance. For international organisations, this can be exceedingly valid – bringing licence agreements from several countries together under a single international contract could help save large amounts of money, as well as the time taken in managing the various contracts.

Developing a cautious approach to SAM in the cloud era

When looking at SAM tools, there is one area where IT has to exercise caution. There is a strong move that has started away from perpetual or yearly licences plus maintenance towards subscriptions, as cloud computing pushes all software vendors to review how they market their products and attempt to maintain revenue streams. 

In many cases, a perpetual licence will allow a user to continue using the software even if no maintenance is paid from there on.  Increasingly, subscription models will include some automated governance of the software – if the subscription is not paid, then access to the software will be automatically blocked. SAM systems will need to be able to look more to the future and advise when subscription renewals are coming up and also to provide end-user self-service capabilities to gain access to external subscription-based services through agreed corporate policies.

Quocirca, the analyst firm, recommends strongly that an organisation ensures that its SAM partner of choice is already prepared for this and is working continuously to maintain its domain expertise in a manner that allows the organisation to move to a subscription model as and when this makes sense. 

Indeed, Quocirca expects to see more SAM systems come through in the market which will be able to help an organisation in identifying when this sweet spot is reached, providing helpful information on what options an organisation should be considering to optimise its software asset base.

Overall, IT must remember that SAM goes beyond the datacentre infrastructure.  However, by rationalising client licenses, a better picture of server requirements in the datacentre can be developed.  Only through a full and strategic SAM approach can the datacentre be fully optimised for the business.

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