How Machu Picchu can teach SAM Best Practices

By Michael Swanson

Having done mountain hiking in multiple continents and assisted in building SAM best practices across hundreds of companies, on a recent hike on the Inca Trail, I observed many similarities between Machu Picchu and SAM best practices. Although the mountain may differ from each continent, and the IT environment may differ by each company, essential best practices are the same. The best practices to learn and follow are:

Pick your Guide Carefully

Every mountain is different. The terrain varies dramatically across mountains and, depending on the altitude, it can even vary across the same mountain. Although an experienced mountain climber may know basic mountain climbing skills, he will not know the specific terrain of a mountain he has never climbed. When you climb a new mountain, the experienced guide will know where the rock slides are, when the path gets dangerous, alternative routes, where to camp, and how long between possible scenic or resting areas. The guide will know the time to the destination, when to start the hike, when to stop and, depending on the conditions, when to go back. The experienced climber will know how to respond to the various conditions but will not know when and where conditions will vary.

It is the same with picking the right SAM guide. Just because a company has a brand name, doesn’t mean the SAM consultants have the necessary experience. Or, if the SAM guide has experience with Microsoft, it doesn’t qualify them to help with Oracle or IBM. Each software vendor, each type of software technology (operating system, database, development software etc.), each vendor audit are all different and require varying skills in managing.

If you want to climb Mt. Everest, Kilimanjaro, or K2, hire the guide that has the most experience with that mountain. It is the same with SAM. Hire the guide with the most experience, not the biggest brand name.

Choose the Right Tools

Before you start any mountain hike, you plan for the right equipment. Are your shoes appropriate for the terrain you’re hiking? Do you have the right backpack? Are your clothes appropriate for the forecasted weather? Do you have sufficient food? If you’re hiking in cold or wet weather, will your camera work in extreme weather? It takes a lot of planning and working with experts to ensure you have the right equipment before starting the mountain climb. If you don’t have the right equipment, the trip will become very miserable. If you tried to get by with cheap equipment, it could be dangerous and possibly life-threatening. Conversely, if you buy too much equipment, it will slow you down which could also be dangerous.

In building an effective best in class SAM program, tools are necessary for certain purposes. If your data center is hosted by a third party, you may not need a discovery tool. If your need is to monitor Microsoft, buying an expensive third-party discovery tool may not give you an adequate ROI compared to utilizing existing Microsoft tools. Conversely, if you’re a heavy IBM user utilizing sub-capacity pricing, you will need to use the correct IBM sub-capacity monitoring.

Most data centers aren’t lacking software tools to build an effective SAM program. They have more tools than necessary and are simply not utilizing critical features on the tools they have.

The proper tool necessary for developing a SAM best practice may not be a software tool. The tool you may need could be processes, governance, people, or data. Ensure that when you invest in a “tool”, that you’re investing in the tool that will give you the greatest ROI.

Assemble the Right Team

One way to ensure that your mountain climbing experience isn’t enjoyable is to get mixed with others that aren’t either skilled, trained, knowledgeable, or as interested as you in the journey. As I climbed the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, I was paired with people who wanted to stop every 15 minutes for rest. They didn’t have the endurance or physical strength to maintain what was a normal pace for me. As a result, the hike took significantly longer than I expected. It would get very frustrating having to constantly stop and wait for others to catch up.

The same is true with building an effective SAM team. Make sure you have the right team members on your team. If they have the interest, they can always be trained to maintain a normal pace. However, if they don’t have the interest, you may always be waiting for them. If you have an ELA to negotiate in a limited time frame, make sure they are on the same schedule as you. Make sure your SAM team are working toward the same goal, whether its cost reduction or optimization, product rationalization, licensing compliance or audit avoidance. The effective SAM team share the same goals, time frame, and strategy. The phrase “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” is true in having the optimal SAM team.

Plan Your Steps

When climbing a mountain, the path is often dangerous. Each step can be on a rock or soil that is soft, slippery, and not stable. You often walk a trail that is uneven and unpredictable. When you see a place to put your next step, you are also thinking of where the step after that will go, in the event your next step slips for whatever reason. Due to the conditions of the trail, there are often places where you are planning your steps three to five steps out. There are no certainties other than that the entire trail is uncertain.

In 25 years of involvement in SAM, I’ve never seen a SAM program that goes 100% as planned. There are always uncertainties: you don’t have the data for an ELP or audit; negotiations took a wrong turn; key SAM employees are unavailable for their input; senior management is reducing corporate commitment to SAM, deployment of SAM tools are taking longer and cost more than budgeted. In each situation, have a backup plan. Look forward multiple steps on your SAM journey. Be prepared in the event your next SAM activity slips from under your foot. Where will you be left standing? Expect your steps to slip, so if they do, you will not fall but instead will have a plan for where the next step will be.

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

A real adventurous mountain climb will be filled with the unexpected. Weather, team members, terrain, and equipment can all disrupt your experience. If you start the journey acknowledging that disruptions can happen, your mental preparedness will help you adjust accordingly.

In the same manner, be prepared for the journey of building a SAM program. An initial roadmap is essential, but be prepared for changes in the plan. If you expect the unexpected, there will be nothing in the journey that you aren’t prepared for.

About the Author

Mr. Swanson founded ISAM in 1996 and led it to become an industry leader in Software Asset Management having managed over USD $15 billion dollars in software costs across 1000 companies worldwide. Michael’s team at ISAM has played an integral role in the software asset management industry for over 20 years by: negotiated many of the first software ELAs in the industry; designed IBM’s PRA service; and the first outside consulting company brought in by a major software vendor to assist companies on audits. Clients globally have utilized ISAM’s GreenBook® and expertise to reduce their long-term software expenses by over one billion dollars.