Long Term Software Management – How to Grow SAM Beyond License Compliance

By Russell Parker

Software Asset Management (SAM) is often treated merely as what is needed to ensure compliance: licenses, deployments, and the reconciliation between the two. Many organizations do not even seriously pursue SAM until a license compliance event occurs. Even for those with a SAM function in place, the focus is still generally focused mainly on compliance. But this is really the tail wagging the dog. License compliance is not the end goal of an effective SAM program, just a natural outcome. If compliance becomes the totality of a SAM program then it is nothing more than an ongoing tactical effort in risk mitigation. This creates no positive business value and cripples the programs long term potential. The SAM function should instead weave through the entire software lifecycle. As a common thread running through many otherwise disconnected processes, SAM gains the perspective to see and act on otherwise hidden risks and opportunities. This is crucial to breaking free from the limitations of a largely reactive and tactical posture. By taking a more proactive and strategic stance Software Asset Management can focus on its true mission: optimizing the overall value gained by an organization from its software.

Organizations, just like people, tend to be “pain driven” when it comes to change and resist it until something hurts. Software Asset Managers are often cast in the role of Cassandra, who while given the gift of foresight was cursed such that none would heed her warnings. It is a common frustration of the SAM practitioner to spend several years being ignored while trying to garner support for a SAM initiative. When the inevitable audit happens it is scant comfort to have been right. In the absence of a mature and well-supported SAM program an audit is an expensive (in both time and money) nightmare for everyone. Sometimes it even takes several in a row or a really big one to get management attention. Unfortunately this tends to come in the form of a crash project and several months of frantic activity. But at least we are finally being listened to. Once the immediate and most traumatic compliance issues are resolved we’ll have the backing to really fix things. Or will we?

A reactive, high intensity, audit driven license compliance project seldom grows naturally into a healthier and more comprehensive overall SAM program. The pace is too fast and the scope is, of necessity, too narrowly defined. While we may have executive attention, the urgency inherent in most compliance events preclude overshadows more strategic interests. Anything which does not address the immediate issues will tend to be deferred, especially if it would cause any delays. Moreover, we are unlikely to retain executive attention for very long after things are resolved. Worse, unless we take action to change it, we will be stuck with the perception that SAM is just about license compliance. We need to find a way to increase executive awareness of the strategic possibilities of Software Asset Management without appearing to threaten the short term compliance goals. Attempting to introduce strategic aspects into a highly tactical situation will just lead to confusion. So what can we do?

One approach which has worked successfully is to explicitly separate the two into an immediate “remedial” initiative and a long term “foundational” one. This ends up providing several advantages. The remedial project inherently needs to work closely with the current environment. There is no time to spin up new tools or make significant organizational changes. With a single project, accepting the lack of change can be hard since it is certain to mean limiting your options to one which are far from ideal. The foundational project needs to be unfettered from the constraints of the way things are currently done. That cannot happen if it has to deliver anything quickly. The beauty of having both projects is that they can each do what they need to, without having to compromise. If a good long term idea comes up in the remedial project it can be passed on to the foundational project rather than just being discarded. This allows the remedial project to move extremely quickly since it can truly focus just on the immediate needs without to much concern about long term ramifications. The foundational project is moving in behind at a slower and more deliberate pace.

This approach also provides a way to communicate our longer term vision to management without seeming resistant or obstructionist to more immediate needs. Position the “remedial” project as a short term patch to fix the immediate problems in the short run using whatever expedients are necessary to do so. In contrast, position the “foundational” project as the critical follow-up to develop a sustainable long term approach. The one is “trauma surgery” to stabilize the situation and the other is about actually getting healthy so the situation does not happen again. Now the long term vision of SAM is no longer in conflict with immediate needs. Instead, the “foundational” project is what is allowing the “remedial” one to move so expeditiously. The message itself builds awareness that there is a bigger picture and potential to SAM. Add some high level examples of what a more strategically focused SAM program can do and you have started to redefine the executive perception of Software Asset Management. Make the “remedial” projects successful within their limited scope and leverage that credibility to make the case for a full SAM program. I’ll come back to this topic next time.

About the Author

Russ Parker is the President of Golden Ratio, Inc.