No More Wild West – The Importance of a Centralized Software Acquisition Process

By Phara McLachlan

Why You Need a Centralized Acquisition Process

A centralized software acquisition process is absolutely indispensable to all organizations for three important reasons:

  1. To control costs: Centralization will help prevent redundant purchases of software already licensed to the company, and ensure that all purchases are made under any volume licensing discounts you may have negotiated with specific software vendors.
  2. To optimize software value: Under flexible licensing agreements, software can easily be reused and redistributed among different departments, so there is often no need to purchase more software.
  3. To stay organized, and compliant, over time: Without a centralized purchasing process, it is very difficult to keep track of new software acquisitions and licensing agreements as an enterprise grows, adapts and evolves over time. As any company that has experienced a software audit knows, losing track of the software you have can be very costly!

Once the business case has been made for the transition to a centralized acquisition process, there are strategies that, when implemented, deliver an effective centralized acquisition process.

Acquisition Process Essentials: Balancing Ownership and Process

Every organization is unique, but certain principles should be implemented when establishing and enforcing a centralized software acquisition process.

First and foremost is ownership. Clearly delegate responsibilities for the evaluation, procurement, documentation and storage of all software, and make sure that someone is designated to be accountable for the entire process. Without ownership and accountability, no process will be effective for long.

Second, and no less important, is a clearly defined process outlining the steps for software acquisition. Keep this as simple as possible for expediency, but make sure the process includes the steps listed below:

  • Analysis of needs
  • Review of products
  • Procurement
  • How to work with the central repository
  • Compliance standards and assessment
After the Purchase

No acquisition process is complete without established procedures and instructions for documenting and securing the software in a centralized repository. At a minimum, these instructions should include:

  • Discovery/assessment process: As with any software asset management function – from acquisition to license management to retirement – it is always necessary to check your inventory throughout your group, division and enterprise-wide. You’ll be surprised at what you may find and where.
  • Types of content to be included (e.g., license documentation, etc.) and where it resides.
  • Tracking of software including:
    • Original documentation storage, including purchase orders and invoices.
    • Storing of original packing and media or how to store information from vendors who send links for downloading their software.
  • Where to update the software inventory or database.
  • Sending the original software to the company’s offsite disaster recovery site, keeping working copies in storage at company work sites.
  • Linking purchase to the receiving process.

Many companies that have not experienced a fire or flood omit the disaster recovery step. A word of advice – don’t wait to learn from experience here. Keep your originals safe at the offsite disaster recovery site!

Enforcing the Process

Some employees will undoubtedly grumble about red tape and murmur in rebellious tones about handcuffs on their creativity and efficiency. Don’t be alarmed – this is normal! Good communications about the value and need for the process can help alleviate this and build the necessary willingness to comply. Having a well communicated, written policy about the process is key to enforcement. It is important to have your policy in writing.

Unfortunately, no matter how much understanding and support you create for your software acquisition process, there will inevitably be instances of employees downloading “free” software such as Adobe Ready and iTunes onto company desktops and laptops. In many ways, the Internet is still regarded as the Wild West, and employees may not understand the harm in adding free software to their company computers. Free doesn’t equate to free across all scenarios. As an example, many vendors do not allow free software for commercial use. A perfect example is academia. Many software vendors allow free versions to be used by students in an academic setting, but once it’s used for commercial purposes, it needs a license.

While you cannot entirely control these process cowboys, there are some measures you must take to keep them to a minimum. First, make sure your software acquisition policies are very clear and precise, including the reasons for their existence. Some individuals may not “get it,” but their immediate neighbors might understand the dangers and help keep the cowboys corralled.

Second, be sure that your software acquisition policies are explained to every employee – new and tenured – so that there is no excuse for ignorance of the rules. And make certain that the process details are as easy to access as employee benefits, so that nobody can claim difficulty in finding the rules.

Finally, make sure every employee understands the unambiguous punitive actions they risk if they break the rules. Wichita and Dodge City had plenty of rules in place during their Wild West heydays, but until Wyatt Earp arrived to enforce them the cowboys did as they pleased. You may not need the Earp brothers, but policies and rules without enforcement don’t mean very much.

About the Author

Phara McLachlan is the CEO of Animus Solutions, Inc.