Businesses are cautious when it comes to taking up best practice frameworks and standards that could help them manage their software assets more effectively.
Best practice frameworks allow IT departments to demonstrate to the board, business partners and suppliers that they are following best practice in their software asset management (SAM) programmes.
But businesses remain sceptical that SAM best practice frameworks and standards - based on standards such as ITIL, Cobit and ISO 19770 - offer real business benefits, according to research by Gartner.
- Download an in-depth article from Gartner on software asset management (requires registration): Software asset management standards and best practice adoption
"Talking to clients, [we found that] they are not seeing what the business value of standards in themselves are. They see the business value of software asset management, but they can't see that the standard helps their case," said Victoria Barber, vice-president and research director at Gartner (pictured).
SAM has moved higher up the agenda of IT departments in the downturn, as businesses seek to rein-in software costs and suppliers step up their policing of software licences.
But according to research by Gartner, only 30% of organisations have taken up relevant best practice frameworks and standards for software asset management.
Around 30% are trying to implement frameworks that are more directed to managing service assets than software assets, and a similar proportion believe that the frameworks will not help them at all.
Understanding the business benefits of SAM
Part of the problem is that businesses wrongly assume that effective SAM will allow them to negotiate discounts from suppliers and safeguard them against software audits, said Barber.
But this is to misunderstand the purpose of SAM. It is more about providing better data to inform purchasing decisions, reducing cost and business risks, than leveraging negotiations with suppliers, she said.
"Businesses need a lot more guidance on how they use these things to provide benefits," said Barber.
For businesses that are new to SAM, frameworks can help them identify what needs to be done.
"If you are more mature, it's a way of demonstrating to people that you are doing things in line with best practice. You can take the elements of the best practice model and show where you are, and if you want your investment in SAM to improve you can show where there is a gap," she said.
Best practice standards also give the board a way of demonstrating that they are complying with best practice for SAM, and potentially to measure its effectiveness.
But the jury is still out on whether companies that take up best practice frameworks for SAM can show genuine business benefits - there is simply not enough data yet, said Barber.
"Companies should review the standards and see whether, at the level of maturity they have reached, they can use them to support what they are trying to achieve. Will they add value? They will for some, not for others," she said.
SAM best practice
Service Asset and Configuration Management (SACM)
SACM is part of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), developed by the UK's Office of Government Commerce. It is the most widely adopted best practice framework used to support SAM.
Gartner says: Despite its popularity, ITIL SACM does not provide the depth of information needed to support SAM. ITIL complaint organisations should use the ITIL SAM publication as their primary framework.
The ISO 19770 series of international standards to support SAM. ISO 19770-1 is designed for user organisations. It is more concise than the ITIL SAM standard, more focused on process, and seen as more manageable. ISO 19770-1 is being redeveloped into a four-tiered model (Staged Sam), making the standard more accessible and allowing organisations to approach compliance gradually.
Gartner says: Gradual conformance will allow organisations to measure their improvement and demonstrate the increasing maturity of their SAM capability.
A significant minority of organisations are using either Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (Cobit) or similar standards to support SAM.
Gartner says: Although they may not be SAM specific, organisations can use the skills and expertise they have acquired around these standards to ensure that quality and best practice is integrated into SAM. This approach is an excellent way of ensuring buy-in for SAM where support and funding are limited.
Sign up to Computer Weekly to download in-depth articles from Gartner analysts