Your Software License Entitlements – Tracking, Managing, and Understanding Them

By Selina Strait

For the past seven years, I have been helping customers to understand their license position and take steps towards implementing software asset management. During this time, I have gained in depth insight into the complexities associated with, as well as the importance of, tracking, managing, and understanding software license entitlements.

While organizations have begun to realize the importance of having a tool that tracks what software is installed in their environment, there are still many that do not have a central repository for tracking and managing their license entitlements. Further, many aspects of understanding their rights with respect to license entitlements are often overlooked.

Below are some common issues to consider. Does your organization have a handle on all of these areas?

Gathering Procurement Data Internally

Depending on your procurement processes, new software may be acquired all the time, from several different vendors. Even if you have a solid system in place for tracking volume licensing, it is critical that other entitlements such as OEM (pre-installed, Original Equipment Manufacturer) or retail (full package product, FPP) entitlements are not overlooked. For example, are applications like MapPoint able to be purchased from a big box store by individual employees and then expensed back to the company? How difficult is it to track those expenses back?

Some publishers like Adobe offer the ability to self-register retail purchases online, but most publishers do not have visibility to non-volume license purchases. Organizations can proactively stay on top of entitlements by minimizing the number of vendors from which they procure software and ensuring that processes exist for tracking all software purchases, regardless of the channel in which they were acquired.

Matching Entitlements to Publisher Records

Some software publishers offer tools to help track and manage licenses, but the onus for maintaining an up-to-date repository ultimately falls on the customer. Slight variations in company name on a purchase order can lead to omitted entitlements, and the process for identifying these missing licenses and adding them to the repository can be manual and tedious. Also, within publisher sites like Microsoft’s MVLS, it can be easy to mistake the number of available activations for the number of licenses actually owned, easily leading to over-deployment.

For these reasons, having an internal license repository is a must-have when it comes to good software asset management. Make it a regular practice to compare all internal records against reseller and publisher records. When omissions or errors are caught, work with them where possible to get their records updated to match.

Understanding “Proof” of Licensing

Knowing what is required to prove you own a license is critical, and can vary based upon the publisher as well as the product type (whether OEM, retail, or a volume license, for example). Is it an invoice, the physical media, the product key, the Certificate of Authenticity (COA)? It is the position of most software publishers that customers are accountable for maintaining the proper documentation for their license purchases, and as a result, a license will be deemed invalid if the proper proof of license cannot be provided. Organizations should take steps to ensure that all proof of licensing is stored in a central, secure location. In the event of an audit, this will greatly limit the disruption to your business, as well as help your organization avoid having to re-buy licenses or pay unnecessary fines for past usage. Keep in mind that when you acquire an upgrade, the older base license from which you upgraded is still relevant and needed as proof that a full license exists.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Licensing entitlement data can quickly become a mess following mergers or acquisitions. Your organization may have been keeping track of their license entitlements, but was the company that was just acquired also doing so? In addition, there may be several, separate resources being used to track entitlements that will need to be consolidated. Ideally, software assets were considered prior to any M&A activity, but in many cases, it is an after-thought. Was the proper process followed to formally transfer the license to your organization? Understanding the different transfer clauses that are part of your agreements is paramount, as the processes and requirements will vary based on the software publisher. Ensure that in addition to following the proper procedures to transfer licenses, the proof of purchase is also transferred if possible, and all records of this are maintained by your organization.

Product Use Rights (PUR)

The product use rights outline how a license can be used. Covering a wide scope including topics like assigning the license, downgrade rights, and transferability rights, product use rights can be very difficult to comprehend and are often interpreted differently. What may seem like the slightest difference, such as the edition (i.e., Standard or Enterprise), or whether you carry active Software Assurance, can mean major differences when it comes to the product use rights. It is crucial that organizations take steps to understand the product use rights and use the software accordingly to avoid non-compliance.

Additionally, the PUR is updated on a quarterly basis, which means that changes to those rights may continually occur. Organizations should work with trusted partners to navigate the complexities involved with understanding the product use rights for all technology implemented in their environment.

These common issues highlight the importance of tracking, managing, and understanding software license entitlements.

About the Author

Selina Strait is the Senior SAM Team Lead Specialist for SoftwareONE, Inc.