Managing Software “Just Right” – Pragmatic Software Management Decisions

By Amelia Collins

Too much or not enough?1

“63% of software vendors cited revenue generation as their number one reason for operating a compliance program, while 50% also want to protect their intellectual property rights.”2.

Like Goldilocks and her porridge, when it comes to software governance and compliance, every organization needs to get things “just right.” Spend too much in a climate of restricted spending, over provisioning on software licenses that you think you might need, and you impact budgets and your ability to invest in strategic projects. By contrast, spend too little and when software vendors approach you about your installed software base you run the risk of non-compliance, fines and legal action.

But what constitutes a sensible level of control? Effectively minimizing the cost of licensing and managing software, while not exposing your enterprise to the risk of an audit is the key, but it’s often not as straightforward as it might appear. Some projects aimed at understanding and managing software compliance run on for many years and struggle to demonstrate any return on investment. But equally, the solution cannot be so simple as to hope for the best and shout “help” when the auditors arrive.

Getting it “just right” is not as easy as it looks.

What’s the recipe?

“Gartner continues to see increasing incidence of software vendor audits, making it critical that customers negotiate with an understanding of how license compliance can be accomplished consistently and cost-effectively.”3

No organization wants to be unprepared and have their business interrupted by a software audit. They may be able to struggle through one but there is no guarantee that these are single occurrences. Every enterprise can and should be prepared for that inevitable visit before it happens. But to be prepared you need to answer three fundamental questions: “What do I have installed?” “What do I own?” and, most importantly, “What do I actually need?”

What software do I have installed?

The first step to compliance is getting control of what has been installed in your enterprise. Many times even answering this seemingly simple question can be a real struggle even if they have a top of the line systems management solution in place. The unfortunate truth for many organizations is that it will boil down to an approximation based on some raw data because of the uncontrolled manner in which software is installed and inventoried.

The root of the problem lies in the vagaries of product information, with inconsistent and incomplete product names, versions and editions often published without a common format. Some standards of how software should run on Windows platforms do exist. However, the enforcement on ISVs to follow these standards is not strictly controlled. For instance, even though many operating systems offer file attributes, not all software publishers take advantage of these features. And in the event that software offerings do include relevant attributes, a lack of formal quality assurance can significantly lessen consistency.

Software bundling is a common practice when releasing software that supports commoditized functionality, such as web services. Again, publishers rarely change details in the registry entries or file attributes to indicate that the software is bundled, so systems management tools typically cannot differentiate bundles from full products requiring associated licenses. From the software vendor’s perspective, identification of suites or bundles is not their concern which is why they do not build such identification into their products. As a result, the reported software inventory is artificially inflated to contain items for which users can rarely prove entitlement.

These inconsistencies are then compounded by the presence of “try before you buy” evaluations, unrecognized by systems management tools and often downloaded by users direct to the desktop without the knowledge of the IT department. Installations such as these are not localized to individual users either. Rather, it is more the case that one person in a department begins to independently use a piece of software which they have installed and then via word of mouth they push others in their group to do the same. This problem worsens when we consider that applications can be downloaded through the Internet or via portals or installed using flash drives or disks.

Then there is the issue of data collection itself. The traditional approach employs systems management tools to examine the software for registry entries, file attributes and product identification data embedded in the code to produce an inventory. An inventory of your desktops, notebooks and servers should give you visibility of all the software you have installed. But when used for this purpose, systems management tools frequently produce a lot of “noise.” From a software developer’s perspective the information that accompanies the file wasn’t intended to assist the IT Administrator’s inventory and identification process in so much as it was intended to help the software development and debugging process.

To begin with, the inventory will be full of software that you don’t need to know about, including hot fixes, drivers, toolbars, plug-ins and Java runtime licenses. It will also contain duplicates caused by those inconsistent product names, versions and editions, usually leading to double counting and inaccurate results. All of this data need to be cleaned, often as part of a laborious manual process. Once you’ve been through all of that, you then need to filter your results just to identify the software that is commercially licensable.

It is perhaps not surprising that in a recent survey conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of 1E, two in every three respondents in organizations with more than 500 employees said they found preparing for software vendor audits challenging. 4

So let’s assume you’ve been able to identify what you have installed. How do you understand how much of it is actually yours?

What do I own?

The ability to track purchase information for licenses is much more difficult than many organizations realize or care to admit. This is typically because the information is not held in one central source, but by a number of individuals or departments and in a myriad of different formats.

License details will be found in your accounting and purchasing departments, recorded on spreadsheets or detailed in finance applications. They will be stored on paper, filed away in cabinets somewhere by your IT team. They could even appear in marketing or sales, purchased from a high street store on expenses having been authorized by a line manager. They may not have even been recorded at all! Some organizations will freely admit that because some SAM tools are so large and complex they would rather wait for a vendor to come to them with an audit rather than try to manage the process themselves.

1E’s own research would suggest that nearly 50% of enterprises still use spreadsheets to record software licenses, with almost 9% still using a paper-based filing system and a staggering 14% using nothing whatsoever.4

Larger enterprises also operate on an international basis, from multiple sites and in many different countries, each of which might have their own purchasing, finance or IT teams and their own local procedures governing software purchases. Indeed, that same research would suggest that 43% of organizations manage their software regionally, 39% by department and 20% on a project-by-project basis.4

Ian Blatchford, a partner with Ernst & Young, agrees, saying “Customers feel that their own decentralized structures often make it harder to keep track of usage around the organization – as does their increasingly complicated suite of IT packages.”5

Additionally, there are many organizations that have scattered licenses and overlaps in software functions due to mergers and acquisitions. This often gets overlooked and causes both over-payments in software due to duplication in job functions but also liability from lost licenses.

Inevitably, many organizations will be forced by the sheer complexity of uncovering and recording all this data to assign a project team to the job of gathering license information across the business. Some will even need to contact vendors and other sources, increasing still further the risk of an audit.

Now, let’s assume you have been able to accurately identify what software you have installed and how much of it you own. The last part of the story is to understand how much of what you have is actually needed.

What do I actually need?

This question could be rephrased as, “What am I actually using?” A review of your software estate (portfolio) may well determine how many copies of applications are installed on your systems and whether or not you have paid for those licenses, but you also need to determine which of these software applications are actually being used, by whom and how often.

Without usage data, you may be purchasing software based on perceived requirements or user requests, not actual need. Usage data plays an important role in determining which applications should be included in a standard image and how many standard images may be needed to meet the different requirements of users. It also plays a part in monitoring and controlling the use of unauthorized applications and in preventing the downloading of unsecured, non-approved software. Having control of software licenses in your environment also reduces the risk of expensive penalties and legal exposure.

The true realization comes when you see that software usage and license liability are tightly coupled topics that can be addressed in order to keep your software installation and purchasing decisions optimal. Software which is installed and used would fall into the category of “I need this software,” software which is installed yet not licensed wouldn’t. We would refer to this as waste. But what if, in addition to waste you had software which was a liability because there are installed copies of software for which your organization hadn’t purchased licenses for yet. It’s in your best interest to know the usage information for this group of systems as well in order to make prudent purchasing decisions.

Once you know what software you have, how often you’re are using it, and how much your organization has purchased, you have the information you need to make informed business decisions. Once you can make informed business decisions, you can put software in place to automate these and keep your environment in an optimal state.

Liability and control

“In a survey of attendees at our IT Asset Management, Procurement and IT Financial Management Conference conducted in November 2010, 61% of the 144 respondents said they had been audited by at least one software vendor in the past 12 months.”6

But even if you can find out what you have, how often you’re using it and how much you’re paying for it, how do you manage your liability and control your risk?

In the vast majority of cases organizations fall out of compliance by accident rather than by design. It may take you many months (or in some cases years) to audit your software licenses, ownership and usage in preparation for that audit. But how are you going to keep that information up-to-date and ready for next year or the year after that? You don’t know when a software vendor will request an audit just that they surely will.

While perhaps there has been a tendency over the years to shy away from discussing software compliance, it remains the primary goal for many organizations in reviewing their software licenses. 40% of the enterprises Opinion Matters questioned said this was their main concern, with a further 22% highlighting reduced business risk.4

It’s not just a question of identification; it’s also a question of control and the ability to take action in order to remediate a problem. With this in mind, software license management tools provide the next and arguably most important step in the process.

Audit data, as we have seen, can only contribute towards compliancy if it is combined with entitlement data, obtained from recording purchases and reports from vendors. For many enterprises, this “true up” could be an almost entirely manual process requiring analysis of general ledger postings and tracking back to accounts payable to find the invoices. Furthermore, it could be out of date in a matter of days. The key point here is that license management tools need to be plugged-in to the active software estate to consistently present compliance status to the IT department.

Advanced license management tools automate the correlation of installation, ownership and critically need, providing a central resource for ongoing compliancy while responding to and reducing liability in the short, medium and long term. The ability for a license management tool to control compliance is considered a base from which a complete compliance program can be built. The control of this data must be automatic, active and ongoing. It must be continually tracked and monitored, alerting appropriate managers when the business falls out of compliance or is overbuying licenses and thereby wasting money.

Rather than simply identifying what has, or has not, been purchased, sophisticated tools can manage centralized deployment and removal of applications, auto-reclaim unused software on one client machine and deploy to another and even “rent” applications to users on a temporary basis for only as long as they need them. They can also reduce or even remove purchased but unused applications, known as shelfware, from the business. It is these elements of advanced control that set some software license tools apart.

More importantly, your enterprise will enjoy immediate cost savings from improved software allocation, volume license discounts, better price points, accurate asset depreciation and more – all while eliminating the risks associated with software non-compliance, lack of policy enforcement and inappropriate or unnecessary usage.

“Software audits are increasing. Organizations must fund IT asset management disciplines or will risk high, unexpected financial liability due to software compliance problems. Having good asset management can reduce the time and pain of a software vendor audit.”6

  1. Based on previously published white paper “Pragmatic Software Governance,” Geoff Collins and Martin Anderson, 1E, 2010
  2. Software Compliance without Tears Monitoring customers’ Software Usage in a Complex World, February 10, 2011. Available from:$FILE/EY_Software_compliance_without_tears_Monitoring_customers_software_usage_in_a_complex_world.pdf
  3. Key Issues for IT Asset Management and Procurement, February 25, 2009. Available from:
  4. Software Efficiency Report 2011. Opinion Matters survey on behalf of 1E, 2011
  5. Software compliance without tears. Software asset management survey, Ernst & Young March 2011
  6. Survey Analysis: Survey Shows Another Increase in Software Vendor Audits; IT Asset Managers Should Prepare Now, March 2, 2011. Available from: