Chapter 4: Licensed to Bill – IT Asset Management: A Pocket Survival Guide

CHAPTER 4: LICENSED TO BILL

What are the challenges?

•   What do I do if I’m told software licence compliance is a priority?

•   The last thing I want is to have to pay a huge bill, but will it be worth the effort?

There’s a great quote from the author Rudyard Kipling which starts:

‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you …’

The point of the quote is to suggest that keeping yourself calm in a situation where you are surrounded by chaos means that you have a level of maturity beyond that of most people. I much prefer this version from a popular comedian that goes a little like this:

‘If you can keep your head when all around you have lost theirs, then you probably haven’t understood the seriousness of the situation.’

As was mentioned in a previous chapter, one of the most frequent driving forces behind a programme of Asset Management is the desire to ensure that software licence compliance is achieved or, put simply, to know that you are only using software that you have proof of purchase for and is legal to be used in your organisation.

When it comes to managing a chaotic IT environment, there may perhaps be a little truth in both quotes, as your view of task priorities may be vastly different from another individual’s. Whilst it may be that you have all the facts at your fingertips – facts that enable a calm, balanced decision to be made – there is always an outside chance that you perhaps don’t fully understand the potential impact that something may have if not resolved quickly.

The same could be said of your understanding of the impact of not being licence compliant, namely that perhaps one of the major software manufacturers has already been knocking on your corporate door and your superiors are trying to work out how best to deal with their approaches.

To manage your software asset inventory effectively, there are a number of key building blocks that you will need in place. If the desire is just to check and balance the number of installed software products against the procurement records you have available, then the building blocks that you require will be:

•   A full inventory of all installed programmes for each machine in your environment

•   A full list of all software procured, containing all valid or potentially valid products.

Figure 1: Compliance equation

When it comes to producing an accurate inventory of installed software – one that is auditable by a software manufacturer – you will first need that comprehensive hardware inventory that we discussed in previous chapters. Logic dictates that software always has to be installed on a computer – sometimes physically, sometimes virtually, sometimes you may even connect from one computer to another to use the software – but the plain fact is that software has to be installed to be used, and so knowing where all your machines are enables you to complete a full, honest and accurate software inventory.

To create a record of purchased licences, you will need to go back through all of the records that may contain a reference to software purchases. As a guideline, the past five years is probably a reasonable amount of time to consider.

Put together a single list, perhaps in spreadsheet format, and include the software manufacturer, application name, version number, vendor and purchase date.

It may also pay to gather any maintenance contract information in a separate sheet as you are collating the information, as this could be used in the project further down the line.

When creating the list, remember to check for the following sources:

•   All paper orders held in records

•   All electronic orders held in records, including e-mails and documents

•   All hardware procurement records, as the major PC manufacturers can also ship applications with new machines.

With both sets of information now to hand, you will be able to match the number of software applications you have purchased against the number of software applications you know you have installed. That resulting number will either be a positive figure – which tells you you have bought more than you have installed, or a negative number – which means you have installed more than you have bought. Once the list is sorted into software manufacturers, this, put simply, is your software licence compliance summary.

So what now?

Well, if all your numbers are positive, then excellent – you are not only compliant, but have a view of what spare licences you now have. This means that when a customer asks for an additional, or new, application to be added to their workstation you will know if you need to buy any additional software to satisfy their request.

If any of your numbers are negative, this signifies that you will need to take some action. The simplest path to compliance from this point is to purchase software licences to cover your shortfall – which, of course, is the path that most software manufacturers would prefer you to take. But what if your budget is limited, the bill is too large to pay off in one go, or the version of the software needed is no longer for sale?

If you are in the situation where the shortfall or deficit is too large, clearly you will need to establish if the installed software that is under-licensed is actually in use and/or required in the business. Some management tool providers have the ability to establish if an application on a remote machine is used and, if so, how often and for how long. If you have this capability, then set up the monitors and, where possible, start to harvest licences from machines that do not use or no longer have the use for the application. If you are not fortunate enough to have such a tool, a simple customer amnesty may help by surveying the customers with under-licensed software to see if they are able to give up licences that are no longer required.

In most cases, entering a dialogue with the software manufacturer – particularly if they are knocking to ask for compliancy reports – will be of help. A decent software manufacturer will want to know you are concerned that you are under-licensed, will be keen to see your plans to rectify the situation, will want to work with you to ensure that you reach compliance, and will be more likely to grant time to sort out the situation.

If the software licence you require is no longer available in the market place, then again entering a discussion with the software manufacturer should reveal if it is possible to purchase a new licence and still use the old version. Alternatively, you might need to consider an upgrade to the next available licensable version to ensure full compliancy.

Remember:

•   Don’t try to do things in the wrong order; you will need your comprehensive hardware inventory to lock down your software inventory.

•   It usually pays to open a dialogue with your software manufacturer if you are being put under timescale pressures.

•   Doing nothing is not an option – it could end up costing you financially and legally.