The People Factor – How to Make Your ITAM Tools More Productive

By Frank Iati

When you buy sports equipment, such as golf clubs, a tennis racquet, a soccer ball or a basketball, you can’t get the most out of it without some training on how to use it. Even if you own the best equipment, you need to learn how to use the “tool” to your best advantage and understand the strategy of the sport for your most effective performance.

It’s the same with ITAM tools. Many tools are very effective but complex. After you purchase a tool, there is still significant upfront work that needs to be accomplished, as well as training and ongoing activities.

Tools are a key component of your ITAM program. They are essential for automating processes such as discovery, license and lifecycle management. However, these tools need to be deployed, run and managed by people. The human factor is critical to ensure that tools are working properly and that the data they generate is accurate and correctly interpreted.

In this article, we will examine how to approach a new tool implementation from a people perspective. We will describe the roles, responsibilities and skills required to help organizations realize the maximum return on investment (ROI) from their tools. Executing on these recommendations will lead to more accurate information generated by your ITAM program, which will help your company make better business decisions about your IT assets and increase the ROI from your ITAM tools.

Over the past 10 years, various research and industry analysts have stated that an effective ITAM program should rely 20% on tools and 80% on people and process. This formula can be applied to an inventory, software usage or ITAM repository implementation.

What makes the implementation of a tool successful? Success depends on good data, solid planning and skilled resources. The tool must generate complete and accurate data, but without good planning, an organization is unable to leverage the full benefits of the tool. People are also critical – not only for implementing the solution, but for reviewing, evaluating and normalizing data for accuracy and completeness. They play a key role up front and perform continuous tasks to ensure that the tool is updated and generates accurate data and information.

Let’s walk through an example of how to approach the rollout and management of an ITAM tool from a people perspective. Your organization recently purchased a software license management system. What do you do next?

The following are ten steps that an organization must take to make the rollout of a software license management system successful. This same approach can be applied to any software implementation.

Step 1: Plan and Strategize

Careful and thorough planning is very important prior to the implementation of a tool. There are a number of decisions, both strategic and tactical, that must be made.

The first step is to assign a Project Manager to run the initiative in terms of planning, implementation and managing tasks. Strong project management is critical and forms the foundation upon which the long-term benefits of the tool can be fully realized. The Project Manager works with the stakeholders to frame the business requirements that guided selection of the tool and ensure that all strategic and tactical decisions map to the primary goals and objectives.

The Project Manager must then establish an action plan that identifies and accounts for the key tasks that need to be accomplished over the lifecycle of the tool:

  • What are the upfront tasks that must be performed?
  • What ongoing activities are required to keep the tool up and running, and ensure that it is generating accurate, up-to-date information?
Step 2: Define, Identify and Train the Team

Once the action plan is established, the Project Manager can set out to identify and enlist the skilled resources – the “dream team” – needed to execute the plan. These skilled resources can be found inside the organization or the Project Manager can choose to go to an outside firm or business network for help.

The skilled users should either already understand how to use the tool or can be trained. They should be ITAM Analysts by trade who have experience as successful tool users in the recent past. They need to understand the software publisher products, relevance of the different versions, licensing, metrics and nuances, and the current agreement that is in place. They also need to comprehend how hardware works with regard to partitioning, counting CPUs and cores, as well as understand the important components.

Technical resources are required to import large amounts of data into the tool. The technical staff must understand the correct algorithms required for uploading or downloading data.

A tools specialist is the product expert who must be well-versed in all aspects of the selected solution. The specialist must be available to work on any operational issues that arise.

For each of the resources described above, training on the tool with practical usage is essential to the productivity of the team and success of the implementation.

It’s critical to put the right team in place to run, manage and use the tool that you have selected.

Step 3: Establish the Contract Entitlements Baseline

The tools will not be useful until you load the appropriate data. You need good data – but what do you need to do to get it?

One of the first tasks that must be completed is to establish a software contract entitlements baseline.

Prioritize which software publishers will be managed by the tool. Then establish a strong understanding of the organization’s rights under its software contracts with each publisher. ITAM analysts with specific software publisher and contract expertise will be required to review the agreements and extract the essential terms and conditions to determine these entitlements. Typically there are nuances that must be recognized and considered. For instance, in an enterprise agreement that is shared across divisions, the entitlements may vary by business unit or geography. This information needs to be captured by the ITAM analysts to ensure an accurate entitlements baseline.

Another important decision is to determine how far to go back in history to establish the baseline. For instance, does your organization require entitlement history back to the year 2005, or 2010?

Step 4: Understand Software Publisher Policies and Metrics

As part of reviewing the contracts, your team must understand the policies and metrics that have been established by each software publisher and capture this information. For example, usage rights for the product titles of a publisher could specify Full Use, Limited Use, Secondary Use and/or Downgrade Rights. These metrics will impact how to measure compliance. If handled incorrectly, your organization could end up licensing more software than required and incurring unnecessary costs for these licenses.

What metrics does the software publisher use for virtualization? If the IT environment includes virtual servers, does the software agreement allow for sub-capacity licensing? What is the policy for Disaster Recovery licenses, and how are they measured? All of this information must be reflected in your entitlement baseline and subsequently entered into the license management system.

Step 5: Identify the Software Deployments Baseline

Once the entitlements are identified, the next step is to determine the deployments baseline.

An important first consideration is how the organization will gather the necessary data: does the organization have discovery tools, or will the process be manual? If automated, run a discovery to determine what IT assets are in the environment. It will be critical to normalize the data to eliminate duplicates and false detection before importing it into the solution. For example, if a company acquired another company, the name of the products may have changed after the acquisition and this needs to be reflected in the software baseline.

This step concludes with a reality check: all data must be reviewed and validated before it is input to uncover any anomalies not captured or normalized. Because any ITAM tool is only as good as the data it uses as input, this again points out the critical importance of having skilled, experienced analysts to implement, run and interpret output from the tool.

Step 6: Import and Enter Entitlement Data

The tool must be enabled by uploading the license entitlements, including information identifying the product, the quantity of licenses and the publisher’s metrics. All the purchase orders associated with the agreements may be entered if the license management system or organization requires this level of detail or validation of purchases. During this step, the technical team manages the import of the data.

Step 7: Import and Enter Deployment Data

After the entitlement information is entered, you are ready to import deployment data. For a complete picture of the IT asset environment, the team should develop and upload a master hardware inventory for the firm. On the software side, previously cleansed discovery data is uploaded into the tool. Once these imports occur, the system should be ready to run reports and perform a reconciliation of license entitlements versus deployments.

Step 8: Run Reports and Validate Data

Finally the team is ready to run some sample reports to see how the system is working and whether it is generating accurate information. Basically, you are inspecting what you expect. Examples of reports include the entitlements report, hardware and software deployment reports, compliance position by software publisher and a report summarizing contract and maintenance renewal dates.

Now you are ready to evaluate the reports for accuracy. Do all the reports reflect expectations? For instance, if the team is expecting 100 deployments of Microsoft Office 2010 and the report shows 200, there is a problem that needs to be rectified.

Step 9: Adjust to Changes in the Environment

IT environments are dynamic and constantly changing. Software tools are updated to fix bugs and upgrade functionality. Server infrastructure is always in flux, with additions to and subtractions from installed hardware. Additional software is acquired almost continuously, so it is critical to monitor and record each event at the time of purchase. Software publishers constantly tweak metrics to adapt to changes in technology and organizations periodically re-negotiate contracts.

It is imperative that the organization capture each of these changes so that the output of the tool remains accurate. This is a critical maintenance function performed by the skilled ITAM team.

Step 10: Maximize the Business Benefits of the Tool

Once the solution is running properly and generating accurate reports, you are in a position to maximize the business benefits by using the newly available information to support important business decisions that impact the organization’s bottom line. What are some of these benefits?

  • Accurate entitlements enable the ITAM team to know what software is available for use at all times.
  • An accurate compliance position provides visibility into whether or not a purchase is required and reduces the risk of potential unbudgeted expenses for the organization.
  • An automated process provides data accuracy and reduces labor-intensive, repetitive tasks for the team. Automation also enables organizations to redeploy some skilled resources to other critical initiatives within the organization.
  • A fully utilized tool managed and run by an expert team of ITAM analysts results in projects that are completed in less time and often at a lower cost.

Access to accurate entitlements, deployments and compliance reports changes the game, often making dreaded situations manageable. For example, in preparation for an audit, a software publisher may have data that leads them to believe that an organization is out of compliance. However by running a simple report, the organization has the opportunity to determine that the publisher is mistaken, enhancing its audit defense. The checks and balances made possible by timely, accurate information will make your organization more productive and efficient.

In conclusion, a successful tool implementation involves a significant investment of time and resources. Just as with the purchase of sports equipment, if you haven’t developed the skill set or expertise to use the tool, you can’t maximize the benefits. Like an athlete with top-of-the-line equipment, the ITAM team must take the time to train, learn and practice with their tool before it will yield the optimal return.

An organization must invest the time upfront to plan and strategize to meet its business objectives. A capable, well-trained Project Manager is required to manage the initiative. The right team of trained, skilled resources must be assigned. Data must be normalized to ensure accuracy prior to importing it into the system. The team should continually update entitlements, deployments and changes in the environment on a routine basis. By following the 10-step approach, the return on an ITAM tool implementation will be optimized and produce the expected business benefits.

About the Author

Frank Iati is the Marketing Director for Siwel Consulting, Inc.