The Year of the Audit - Software License Management

By Kacey Weinberg, Aspera GmbH, Aspera GmbH |  Software, IT Asset Management, IT audit

Microsoft’s Global Anti-Piracy Day operation spans 49 countries and has kicked off educational programs as well as legal actions. According to reports, Microsoft is set to announce lawsuits filed against 20 resellers in the United States suspected of selling pirated software (Source: Microsoft to describe anti-piracy campaign). Three retailers in Singapore have already settled negotiations with the software giant after being caught in a raid that took place in April this year (Source: Microsoft launches global antipiracy campaign).

Companies, individuals and even government bodies are at risk of being audited. On Oct. 27th the Business Software Alliance (BSA) intensified its crusade against piracy and filed suits against 9 individuals in the U.S. and U.K. for selling illegal copies of software over the Internet (Source: BSA Sues iOffer Sellers Over Pirated Software). The BSA also filed suit against Kiryat Yam, a city in Israel, on behalf of Microsoft for purportedly using unlicensed Windows and Office products on their employee computers (Source: Microsoft sues Israeli city).

Thinking it won't happen to you is a naïve and risky attitude to take. Even if Microsoft or the BSA don't come knocking on your door right away, Global Anti-Piracy Day could indirectly lead to your organization being investigated. Part of the resellers' audits includes them granting Microsoft access to lists of customers who "purchased" software and this could lead auditors directly to enterprise end-users – not a happy thought for most CIOs. This makes initiating a Software Asset Management (SAM) program all the more important and urgent.

What do you need to get SAM started?
The most basic instrument of SAM is performing gap analyses (license entitlements vs. installations) to check for compliance. Most large corporations already have a central repository for the software. Implementing a SAM tool is the next step. All software asset management tools on the market maintain some form of a license repository (the best being catalog based tools – see my last entry How Do Catalog Based Tools Work?). What they do is marry the two databases together to provide compliance reports. The tool provider will do an assessment of your software license situation as part of their services, and inform you of any gaps.

Using the reports you can see where your company is over or under licensed and immediately take action to remedy the discrepancies. Should your company be threatened by an audit, you'll be able to pull up gap analysis data instantly to prove compliance, saving valuable man hours. Also noteworthy in our current economic situation is the amount of savings you'll see after implementing the SAM tool. For example, Aspera GmbH customers have, on average, an ROI of six months to a year. And the savings don't stop there: in a white paper published by Microsoft in 2006, "according to Gartner, companies that build effective software asset management programs can reduce their IT spending by up to 30 percent the first year, and 8 to 10 percent during subsequent years."

What should you look for in a SAM tool?
The heart of any SAM product is its license repository, so be sure to choose a tool that has robust methods for translating information in transactional purchase records to entitlement data. Also important, especially during an audit, is being able to quickly pull up your proofs of purchase, so the tool you choose should definitely have a provision for maintaining a central database for the actual license documents. The tool should help IT managers reduce the complexity and costs related to software license management.

But purchasing the tool is the easy part, it's defining the processes and sustaining top management support that can make or break the success of your SAM program. Be sure to implement a process oriented solution that can later sustain your company's maturing SAM efforts. As your program develops you'll want to increase your knowledge of use rights in regards to upgrades, downgrades and maintenance, track your software finances, and be able to manage licenses in virtualized environments.

So don't just research the SAM tool you're going to implement. Look at the solution provider as a partner who will work with you to establish effective processes for software license management and train your IT staff to gain an understanding of the data and procedures on an ongoing basis.

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