How to use software management tools to cut risk and cost

Keeping a handle on what software applications are running on the company network is never an easy task.

As support duties and deployment assignments pile up, IT teams often have very little time left to do a comprehensive audit of the various software tools in the system.

The asset auditing task, also known as software asset management (SAM), is often relegated to the backburner, according to industry experts.

The price of such neglect can be heavy, they caution.

“Unfortunately putting off SAM can expose the company to potential risks or prevent the firm from realizing substantial savings,” said Diana Piquette, license compliance manager for Microsoft Canada.

For instance, she said, organizations that fail to stop employees’ use of unlicensed or inappropriately licensed applications could face legal action from vendors.

Downloading unauthorized software on to the company network, if left unchecked, can create system-related problems that could tie up the IT team and cost the firm valuable revenue.

SAM helps companies avert such an unfortunate state of affairs, experts say.

An effective SAM program can save an organization as much as 30 per cent in software licensing and maintenance expenditures, according to Ross Armstrong, senior research analyst for consultancy firm Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

“By pinpointing which applications are not being used and determining how heavily other applications are being utilized, IT teams can eliminate unwanted software, reduce license contracts, and limit upgrade and maintenance tasks.”

With the growing importance of meeting compliance regulations such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronics Document Act (PIPEDA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, there is now growing need among companies to produce reports that can show regulating bodies that adequate tools are being used to protect personal information and ensure the accuracy of financial data, also said Armstrong.

Old programs and unauthorized applications were hampering the operations of a Quebec-based ski resort until it decided to implement SAM.

Guy Granger, vice-president of finance for Ski Bromont, said the resort was losing around 1,000 customers each day because a “mish-mash” of outdated and disparate applications was disrupting their system.

Deployment of a Microsoft-based SAM system helped the company weed out unwanted software and increase operational efficiency, he said.

SAM can also help organizations gain better bargains from vendors, according to Paul Rochester, president and CEO of PS’Soft, a San Mateo, Calif-based provider of asset management tools.

“Since software asset management provides additional details about software deployment and usage, it enables IT to improve the company’s negotiating position with vendors,” he said.

Rochester said industry benchmarks indicate informed buying decisions can help a company cut spending by as much as five per cent per vendor each year.

There are three basic SAM options available for businesses, according to Piquette.

Small organizations can carry out their SAM project manually. Depending on the size of the company or complexity of its network, this task could be either simple or cumbersome.

Businesses can also shop around for SAM software products and deploy the tool themselves or seek out a partnership with a SAM program provider that can help analyze the company’s needs and install the necessary tools.

According to Armstrong some leading SAM vendors are Altiris, IBM Tivoli, LandDesk, ZENWorks, and HP. Smaller, vendors that might appeal to SMBs include Centennial Software, Integrity Software and Sassafras Software.

Experts highlight key features to look for in a SAM tool. They include:

1. Inventory capability – At the very least, a SAM tool must be able to recognize all the applications running in your system. Some advanced product can even scan remote devices.

2. Usage metering – This feature lets you monitor what’s being used and how often. And that, in turn, helps you to decide which applications to ditch, maintain or upgrade.

3. Detect and stop feature – More advance systems can detect unlicensed or unauthorized applications and automatically shut them down.

4. Pricing and support – Pricing and support structures vary from vendor to vendor depending on functionality. Find the combination that suits your needs and budget.

For companies that want to go it alone, Piquette has the following advice:

  • ” Take the time to check what’s running in your system. Companies can do a manual inventory of the hard drive of all PCs or run a software inventory tool.
  • ” Match all software with appropriate licenses. Use the required documentation as evidence of each type of software you own. Assign a main contact person to oversee software acquisition and licensing.
  • ” Review policies and procedures. Go over company rules on software purchase and maintenance. Make sure they support your SAM efforts.
  • ” Follow up on audit results. Once the audit is done, consult with employees and stakeholders to determine areas where licenses need to be updated and pinpoint applications that need to be retired.
  • ” Keep up the good work. Review your SAM program regularly. For some organizations, a review every three months is ideal.
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