Software asset management can drive down licensing costs

With suppliers pulling the audit card, IT needs to get licence key in order. But strong software asset management (SAM) offers more than just licence compliance

With a number of software licence discrepancies coming to light recently and suppliers playing the audit card, IT departments need to get licence key in order. Strong software asset management (SAM) not only delivers licence compliance, thus avoiding the hefty fines that could otherwise result, but can also help prevent software overpurchasing as well as drive down support costs and identify staff training needs. 

One of the recent shortfalls in licences has come at NHS trusts. Microsoft is set to send out audit letters to hospitals, which are now responsible for their own software licences.

And according to the ITAM Review website, Novell and SuSE owner Attachmate is targeting Belgian mobile operator Mobistar for €4.5m in licence fees that it says it is owed on its ReflectionX terminal emulation package.

A comment on the ITAM Review website noted: “A major gotcha was the legacy installs of the ReflectionX products. Watch out for non-compliance penalties and back maintenance charges.”

The challenge for IT is that keeping track of licences can be hard to do. 

In another recent case, engineering firm Project Options had to pay £16,000 in a settlement and then spend £17,500 on new licences because of a shortfall in AutoDesk licences. At the time, Project Options director Paul Daly said: “In addition to discovering that we were using unlicensed software, we also discovered some contractors had downloaded and used unlicensed software.”

Twelve processes that IT departments should carry out to keep ahead of the software auditors have been detailed by software asset management consultant Rory Canavan in his book SAM Process Kit.  

Canavan said the book would act as a guide to help people responsible for SAM in the organisation to get started. “IT is not viewed as enabler,” he said.

Authorised apps

Canavan pointed out that by knowing all the applications running in an organisation, a software asset manager can help IT security identify which software is authorised to run on the corporate network. “A software inventory sweep per department can be used to populate a configuration management database,” he said.

Such information would enable the IT department to keep track of whether staff are authorised to run the applications they have access to.

Canavan said: “Maintaining a supported software catalogue takes SAM audit and reconciliation data beyond pure SAM boundaries, and can feed business intelligence back into the company via the service desk function.”

Support and training

In theory, the supported software catalogue process could be used to assess the impact of supporting a given product. If there are a high number of calls to the service desk relating to bugs and technical issues with a product, this could feed back into procurement and be used to negotiate licence renewal and determine whether additional user training is required, Canavan added. 

“The software contained in the catalogue would form the basis of any reports generated in support of either renewing vendor support or deciding that the product is too much of a burden to support,” he said.

Licence reharvesting

Software licensing has become an IT budget black hole. According to Canavan, organisations can make substantial savings by reharvesting old licences when staff leave or laptops are decommissioned. But such practices require the IT department to maintain an up-to-date record of IT assets, which means using licence tracking tools.

Too many organisations seem to take great pride in producing audit and reconciliation reports, but don’t then follow up on taking action on unused software

Rory Canavan

Canavan said: “Too many organisations seem to take great pride in producing audit and reconciliation reports, but don’t then follow up on taking action on unused software, and then seem more than happy to service new requests for software that could have been addressed from recycled installs.”

Canavan said the software reharvesting process can be used to augment a licence pool, prevent over-purchasing and minimise waste.

But while many organisations put their trust in software licensing tools, such products are one component of an overall software asset management strategy.

ITAM Review founder Martin Thompson said: “There is a perception you can buy SAM, but it is not plug and play. SAM is 80% process. It needs constant work.”

Thompson noted that a strong SAM process can support change management in a datacentre environment, especially in situations when IT must determine the most cost-effective deployment platform. In Thompson’s experience, system architects who design datacentre applications, rarely look at the software licensing impact of their systems.

Canavan said: “Once instructions have arrived to install/deploy or alter software, there is a very real possibility that most organisations have not consulted the licence terms and conditions to verify that the installation/deployment/change does not in some way breach those T&Cs. Engagement of a SAM professional prior to deployment would always be a recommended course of action.”

So a SAM process would be able to provide IT decision-makers with the licensing costs, allowing them to determine the most cost-effective deployment platform.

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