Software Asset Management

December 2, 2013

A recent survey into the aspects of IT that generated the highest unforeseen costs highlighted software licensing and asset management as the most expensive source of problems. Just under half (47%) of the 109 IT directors within the sample polled by Computing magazine flagged it as their most expensive issue. Due to the increasing frequency with which software vendors are both auditing their customers and changing their licensing rules, this finding is unsurprising.  

Non-compliance is frequently inadvertent

The unexpected expense these companies face arises due to the ‘true up’ costs organisations incur if they are audited and found to either have insufficient numbers of licences for the numbers of users accessing the software, or because they have not understood their licensing obligations in the first place.  This latter scenario occurs because of the extreme complexity of many vendors’ licensing agreements, particularly when running software applications in virtualised environments. 

Apart from the unforeseen expense – software ‘true up’ costs for medium sized organisations can run into six figures for some applications – there is the potential loss of reputation to consider if non-compliance becomes a PR issue. This is perhaps more pertinent for the legal industry and other professional services firms than other sectors of the business community. For law firms especially, reputation is everything because firms are engaged as trusted business advisors, with an expectation that the highest levels of compliance, governance and ethics are maintained across all areas, not least in software licensing. This was the justification for Harper Maclelod LLP, who decided to take a more proactive approach to licensing compliance, whilst at the same time, improving security, IT service levels and cost management as a whole. 

Team based approach to software compliance management

One of Scotland’s leading commercial law firms with a headcount of 300 across four sites, Harper Macleod takes software licensing compliance very seriously and spread responsibility for SAM (software asset management) across its IT Department. As a team of ten, they all play a role in the management of software assets used by the firm. These responsibilities include identifying what software is being used and maintaining a register of software installed (inventory management), through to actively monitoring how software is used and whether users are getting value for money (software usage metering).  

IT asset management as a whole is a complex task for Harper Macleod because the firm produces a vast number of written documents and relies on an infrastructure of Windows servers with additional Linux machines for a specialist e-mail encryption solution. Coupled with this, they have a commitment to support flexible working, which requires the use of software assurance licences to give staff roaming rights and the ability to use MS Office over a thin client with tablets and mobile devices. Harper Macleod has additional software licence agreements in place for the other applications it uses within the firm. These include LexisNexis Solcase (case management), Lawsoft (Thomson Reuters Elite), HP Worksite (document management) and BigHand (digital transcription), amongst others.  

Microsoft audit highlighted compliance discrepancies

Harper Macleod were offered a SAM review and audit by Microsoft and because being fully compliant with software licensing is so important to their overall reputation, they took the opportunity.  During the audit, a couple of minor issues were subsequently found, but this was to do with the intricacies of Microsoft’s software licensing rules and resolved swiftly.  

Although Microsoft was the primary vendor of concern, Harper Macleod also wished to be compliant for all other applications included in the inventory checks. Since the audit process they followed included both hardware and software assets, this was a useful exercise in identifying whether any PCs should be upgraded or retired at the same time.

Beyond compliance to licence optimisation and re-harvesting

Whilst the initial motivation to implement software asset management was compliance driven, Harper Macleod also identified additional licence optimisation benefits during the auditing process. In particular, software metering allowed detailed reports showing actual software usage levels by individual staff to be created. This meant Harper Macleod’s IT management could become far more cost efficient, because software usage could be audited and reported down to an individual user level to avoid instances where money was being wasted on unnecessary software licences. Any employee identified as not using his or her software entitlements fully could have access revoked and the same licence could be made available for others in the firm to use. This capability to ‘re-harvest’ unused licences rather than simply purchasing new entitlements helped Harper Macleod to make significant IT cost savings. 

Automated software re-cycling in place

Looking ahead, Harper Macleod is keen to further expand its use of software asset management and make greater use of automated metering. This will allow the firm to automatically un-install software that has been identified as under-utilised by an individual and then make it available for re-harvesting to other users. Ultimately, Harper Macleod wants to get to the position where users are able to see what applications are available and access what they need via a self-service type solution would mean IT can drive greater efficiency and focus more on strategy, thus serving the business needs more closely. 

Mark Flynn is General Manager UK at Snow Software. 

This article contains an extract of an original case study about Harper Macleod, a user of Snow License Manager by Snow Software.