Software Asset Management: More than License Compliance and Management

There is continued, perhaps increasing, confusion in the industry about the discipline of Software Asset Management (SAM) and its subsets Software License Management and Software License Compliance.

Examples of conflicting information or explanations of Software Asset Management include:

  • Statements in public forums such as LinkedIn:
    • “Software license optimization is SAM, stop over-complicating things.”
    • “SAM is about and for license compliance.”
  • Job postings for ITAM or SAM positions (e.g., SAM analyst) which clearly indicate that the position is specific to software license compliance, often for specific publishers. In reality, while SAM professionals need a basic understanding of licensing, their focus is on implementation and governance of the SAM program framework.
  • Publishers’ positioning license compliance audits as ‘SAM’ reviews or services.
  • Some technology providers’ positioning of their products as comprehensive ‘SAM’ solutions.
  • Agreements for managed or outsourced ‘SAM’ services that include vague, general terms and a narrow scope, not reflective of comprehensive lifecycle SAM.
    • “Outsourcer will be responsible for IT Asset Management, specifically, maintaining an inventory of installed hardware and software.”
    • “MSP will be responsible for fulfilment of approved software license requests, and for license tracking.”

The inability (unwillingness?) to differentiate SAM and its subsets is one of the reasons ‘SAM’ initiatives too often fail to meet expectations: there are important differences in scope and objectives, as well as supporting practices. Clearly identifying this differentiation may be helpful in successfully planning and implementing your SAM program, including selecting appropriate industry solutions.

Software asset management and its subsets

Software Asset Management (SAM) is a subset of IT Asset Management (ITAM), and is focused on software assets, licenses and related services, as well as media (physical or digital) by which software is delivered.

A comparison of SAM and its subsets, follows, as illustrated in Figure 1:

ITAM and SAM Subsets
Figure 1: ITAM and SAM Subsets
  • Software License Compliance is focused on avoiding ‘under-licensing’, by ensuring compliance with license entitlements – often with (inadequate) focus on the number of licenses as compared to software deployments. However, compliance must take into account other license parameters such as device configuration, geographic location, employee/non-employee, and many others.
  • Software License Management, including software license optimization, goes beyond software license compliance to additionally focus on ‘right-licensing’ – avoiding unnecessary licenses in type, quantity and function. Most organizations are over-licensed for some products in quantity (e.g., Microsoft Project) or in product function (e.g., enterprise versus standard edition). In some cases, the software can be deployed more optimally to reduce licensing requirements and costs – e.g., relocating the software to a smaller server.
  • Software Asset Management goes beyond a focus on licenses to additionally focus on the software product (asset) – function, currency, standardization, full lifecycle cost, and more.

Today, many ‘SAM’ initiatives are fundamentally based in software license compliance, with possibly some elements of software license management. Ideally, those practices will expand and mature into a comprehensive Software Asset Management program.

Note that basic hardware asset tracking is a pre-requisite for all, particularly software license compliance, to ensure that each software license is sufficient for the device characteristics (e.g., processors and cores).

  Objectives Key Considerations
Software License Compliance
  • Ensure not ‘under-licensed’.
  • Minimize audit likelihood
  • Minimize audit impact.
  • Avoid unbudgeted expense.
  • Avoid legal and reputational risk.
  • Are we entitled to use the software?
  • Do we have a sufficient license?
  • Where and how deployed?
  • When, how, and by whom used?
Software License Management As above, plus:
  • Ensure ‘right-licensed’.
  • Avoid unnecessary direct costs (license, maintenance, support).
  • Avoid unnecessary complexity.
  • Do we have the right licenses?
  • Is effort to manage licenses reasonable?
  • Are the licenses optimally deployed?
  • Are the licenses used?
  • Are direct costs commensurate with value?
Software Asset Management
    As above, with expanded focus beyond licenses to include the assets (products):
  • Reduce technological complexity – e.g., through product standardization.
  • Reduce lifecycle costs – direct and indirect.
  • Maximize value/return.
  • Support other IT/non-IT functions.
  • Plan strategically.
  • Do we have the right products? Are there newer or different products that would better meet the business needs?
  • Do we have standard products and versions?
  • Do we have functionally redundant products?
  • Are the products optimally deployed and used?
  • Are the products appropriately supported? (internally and externally)
  • Is there a product roadmap? (internal and publisher)
  • Are lifecycle costs commensurate with value?

Why does differentiation matter?

As with most things in business and life, SAM success depends in part on setting appropriate expectations with stakeholders, and a common understanding of key concepts. More specifically, differentiation is needed in order to:

  • Identify expected results (benefits).
  • Establish an appropriate plan and budget.
  • Establish standard and appropriate definitions – e.g., IT asset vs. license.
  • Select/define an appropriate program framework to assess current practice and implement new/improved practices.
  • Within that framework, identify necessary policies, processes, data, technologies and roles/accountabilities.
  • Select appropriate resources, with requisite experience and knowledge. Provide appropriate training.

Bottom Line: We must understand and obtain consensus on the objectives and scope of our ‘SAM’ initiatives to ensure that we implement the appropriate solution – in all respects (policies, technologies, resources, roles/accountabilities etc.). Proper differentiation within SAM and its subsets will facilitate that understanding and consensus and lead to higher levels of SAM maturity and success.


Quick Guide to Maximize Your Software ROI and Mitigate Audit Risks

Want to make better licensing decisions that lower your company's software costs by 30%? This SAM Program Guide gets you started.


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