Gaining Control of our Software – A Practitioner Case Study

By Septimus George

When I started my journey in ITAM many years ago, there was something no one wanted to talk about. You know, the obvious flamingo pink elephant dancing on the table right in front of the door. Some of us have accepted it and evolved to calling that beast software license management and compliance.

At that time, my company had 6 large business units, each pulling with full force to have any software they wanted, how and when they wanted it. The units all had their own person or persons responsible for “purchasing” software and “managing” the licenses. The problem with this is that these individuals all had their own full time, non-asset management jobs.

Our then “new” ITAM team of two young, eager college graduates saw software management as an opportunity to stake a claim and prove our worth to the company. We decided to centralize all the purchasing, storage, and distribution of software for the entire company. We quickly started to hold bi-weekly meetings with these group admins who were over burdened with having to buy and manage software. We came up with a strategy to take control of the business’ software and centralize the purchasing, management and deployment through one team, ITAM.

We collected all the media which the administrators had in their possession and catalogued them. We labeled each media CD/DVD with: the name of the requestor, the department that purchased it, the requisition number and Purchase Order number used to order it and the current user. We began to receive cartons and cartons of media and, with little hesitation, we continued the cataloguing process. We knew there had to be a better way to do this. We were running out of space quickly, and within a few months we had thousands of CDs, stacks of invoices and receipts, folders full of license agreements.

Rather than pursue the selfish dream of reducing clutter, we decided to focus on “truing” up the actual installs to the records we had amassed. We underwent a 6-month long process were we used our Altiris tool to run software reports for all the software on managed PCs in our environment. Our initial run showed over 10,000 unique software license installs. We were able to use this massive report to find our top ten installed software by count. We focused on these first and started questioning the respective admins regarding the whereabouts of missing licenses. Some admins where able to find records they had forgotten to turn over and some could not. We also had some reluctant administrators who may have felt that this process would make them and their efforts look inadequate. We were able to explain to them that our purpose was not to punish them, but to make sure that the company would not be at risk of penalties from an audit. Once the goal was made clear, the information started to pour in even more.

Our reports sometimes had duplicate line items due to service packs or version changes and the way that vendors reported the software in the add/remove programs, so we first had to weed these out to give us a cleaner report. We then began to find commonalities and further cleaned up the data. We found users who bought licenses for multiple versions instead of buying upgrades or maintenance (which most of the admins had never heard of). We were then able to farm out some of these older licenses to other individuals who needed the software within the department. We then took note of every license that our group and the admins could not match up and gave the departments two options; buy a license or uninstall it immediately. We had very little hope that this approach would be fruitful, but to our surprise, each department willingly purchased licenses for the individuals that needed the software.

At the end of this process, we were actually able to match every known license to an install. We now had something we had never had before – a list of users and licenses that we could put into a searchable SQL database. We could now move licenses to different users due to employee turnover or even simple department changes. We eagerly began to dive deeper into our licenses and identify users who had installed the software but had not used it within the last 180 days. We contacted these individuals and were able to harvest additional licenses. As a result of this database, we started to realize savings for the company. Unnecessary licenses were no longer being purchased since we had a living database and could transfer licenses from old employees to new employees. Licenses were no longer being lost by admins because our ITAM department had visibility into all licenses purchased by the company.

Presently, we have made even more progress such as now we have the ability to install and uninstall software via pushes. We even have a dedicated tool to remote into the users’ desktop via BOMGAR and perform manual, non-packaged installs. We have also converted our piles of paper records into electronic SQL databases and use an in-house program to manage our software licenses, from procurement to installation and even destruction. We have reduced our thousands of installation media to about 100 physical discs by converting the physical media to ISOs or executables on a secured share. Access to this share is managed by ITAM and technicians must request access to software. The license keys are kept separate from the share, as an additional security measure. We hope to continue to progress in our quest for compliance management and will continue to share our experiences in articles depicting the improvements of our fellow ITAM members.

About the Author

Septimus George is the Inventory Control Specialist for RTI International.