The primary business goals of software license management and optimization are to prevent costly software vendor audits and avoid over licensing (over spending) situations. Tools on the market are available to process inventory data and reconcile it with purchasing and contracts in order to calculate your vendor license position. Regardless of the tool used, achieving these goals always involves, at first, spending time and dedicating resources that in some cases could be significant. Once this initial effort has been completed, the tool monitors the license positions on a regular basis to ensure compliance and alert operators of any deviation. The problem here is software asset managers are waiting for non-compliance issues to happen in order to fix them; but ideally, license compliance issues should be prevented rather than remediated. Best practice processes and tools exist in this area to help organizations; some of the most important ones applicable to desktops and user devices are described below.
The first best practice is to centralize all purchases related to software products. Problems always arise when end users or business units purchase their own licenses. There is a high risk of losing track of the entitlement (proof of license) as purchases, for instance, can be made with a credit card and reported in an expense report. These software purchases may eliminate the benefit of having an existing enterprise agreement between the vendor and the organization. They may not follow the company standard in terms of maintenance and support: for example, full package products do not have the same product use rights as products purchased through a volume agreement. Finally, end users or business units may not purchase the software products recommended by the organization.
Another best practice that could be impacted by a decentralized procurement process is the standardization of software products within the organization. If purchases orders are not centralized, multiple products may co-exist within the organization fulfilling similar functions; this impacts compatibility between applications, security as some old software product versions can bring malware and viruses and increases the workload for the service desk. It also adds work for software asset managers, as more software titles and agreements must be monitored for license compliance.
Another important step is to prevent rogue installation of software products. Unless computers are locked down, this will likely always occur. One way to minimize this is to offer end users an on-demand software request tool. Enterprise application store tools usually provide an iTunes-like user interface to end users, allow request approval by management and automated delivery of the software products through integration with configuration management or software distribution tools. App stores contribute to the standardization of software products used by the company as the choices presented to the end users are limited to products recommended by the organization. They help identifying rogue installations by comparing actual software product installations and requests. They enforce proper licensing through connection to the software asset management and license optimization tool; each time a request is submitted, the availability of a license in the pool can be checked, and if available, the license can be allocated. Obviously, flexibility is important here as not all licenses have the same rules; some licenses are trued-up on a regular basis (e.g. an annual true-up event such as for Microsoft Enterprise Agreements) when othermay be s purchased as soon as requested. If computers are locked down, there are still many benefits to using an app store as they provide a very efficient way to fulfill user requests and are able to dynamically update the license management repository.
Retirement of computers is another process that should be considered, as it impacts license management. When a computer is retired, the hard disk is wiped clean and the equipment disposed. At this point, the device should be removed from the inventory in the asset management repository to free-up all non-OEM licenses, making them available for re-assignment. If this hardware asset retirement and license recycling process does not exist, the inventory tool may keep reporting inaccurate inventory until a timeout, usually three months, is reached. During this period of time, all licenses attached to the device will be unavailable for re-assignment. As organizations retire on average 25 to 33% of all devices every year, the cost associated with a lack of that step in a hardware retirement process can be significant.
There are many other processes that can be used to prevent license compliance issues and avoid over spending on software licenses in the desktop world. For instance, metering application usage and uninstalling unused software products will free up licenses for other devices or users—this is sometimes called license re-harvesting. License management should not be limited to passively monitoring non-compliance issues. It should always be integrated within organizational processes to provide up to date and accurate data. Tools such as enterprise application stores should be deployed to help manage and control licenses. With these processes and tools in place, license managers will be pro-actively monitoring their licenses rather than waiting for a disaster to happen and trying to remediate issues.
To learn more about software asset management (SAM) best practices, please read our white paper: NCC Guideline for IT Management: Software Asset and License Management Best Practices