A Quarter in the Life: What Really Happens in SAM Managed Services?

September 14, 2017

Author

Kevin Hooton

Do you remember your first computer? My first recollection was borrowing my father’s portable IBM suitcase to print my resume on a dot matrix printer that I thought was cutting edge at the time. Soon came college and a brief tango with the Macintosh. Odd how I can remember these models and manufacturers from 30 years ago, but I cannot tell you what hardware I am using right now. The world has changed, and software is what makes the technology world go ‘round.   We are consumed by software, and it touches nearly every aspect any business through business intelligence, security, customer management, financial applications, communications, office productivity and thousands of software vendors covering every corner of industry. Our lives are connected, like it or not, because of software and on balance it has resulted in great productivity improvements.

Software Asset Management (SAM) is no different, and arguably has reaped some of the most benefits from various software advances over the past ten years. We have gone from the dark ages of spreadsheets, painful data collection and guesswork when it comes to software compliance to rapid license management tool deployments, deep application recognition libraries, data normalization, programmatic licensing rules to re-harvest, and integration with other applications like Systems Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and ServiceNow. However, I want to illustrate by way of a typical customer experience why it’s the people and processes you surround yourself with that make your SAM investment successful, not just the software.

First, let me point out that even in the best circumstances software is at great risk for failure. According to analyst firm Gartner, as high as 75% of all large technology investments fail. Why? The first reason is not having executive sponsorship. The next is suffering from “dirty data” – a problem that pops up when you have duplicate, incomplete, or bogus data. This is a massive problem in software asset management and ISO Standard 19770, a SAM best practices guide, even identifies establishing “trustworthy data” as the first stepping-stone to asset management success. This all implies that getting the “right” data into a license management tool is imperative and more often than not will be the bottleneck to any success.

SoftwareONE Case Study:

Earlier this year a Fortune 500 company hired SoftwareONE in a last ditch effort to prove its technology investment worthwhile. The company had invested millions in a well-known license management solution two years earlier and were at a crossroads for getting it right, or perhaps starting over with another solution. To put the historical investment priorities in perspective, the company operates with a single SAM resource for 100,000 devices. This unequal balance between technology and talent is a typical scenario today as decision-makers unwittingly are “sold” that the licensing solution can do everything including plug-and-play integration, advanced licensing optimization and other features as “out-of-the-box.”

Reality is far from “out-of-the-box.” In our first presales meeting, the primary stakeholders admitted that the problem was not their tool. Nor was implementation an issue. Their problems were primarily data or people related, including:

  1. Zero ability to defend against multiple, ongoing audits due to data integrity issues and limited licensing knowledge
  2. Inability to manage through a quagmire of historical entitlements due to lack of manpower and contractual licensing expertise
  3. Technical challenges maintaining the license management software (i.e. upgrades, daily troubleshooting) and data integrations with third-party discovery tools
  4. Gaps in software recognition and incomplete internal business information
  5. Limited experience working through validations required to ensure data accuracy and no advanced licensing expertise for major publishers like Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, VMware and AWS.

After this discovery phase both sides agreed that any cost optimization would be appreciated but the priority should lie with regaining credibility and proving that the existing sizeable investment had a payoff. The challenge was issued – SoftwareONE had three months to get “it” right.

Early on in the project, the first major issue presented itself, as an ongoing audit publisher’s major product keys were indecipherable by the software. What does this mean? The license management tool could not distinguish the product and the versions in use because the installation files all looked identical – try finding an invisible needle in a haystack.  With the audit clock ticking and not enough time to modify the application recognition library, the SoftwareONE team developed a process to manually collect and review each-and-every installation directory, and within weeks helped the client gain critical visibility into its compliance position as ammunition to use in upcoming negotiations with the auditors.

Next up, the customer decided to leverage its existing discovery tools rather than install a new agent, which meant that custom integrations would be required. Easy “plug and play” right? On the contrary, as only through painstaking trial and error did SoftwareONE uncover that the customer’s discovery info was misaligned on multiple fronts and needed correction through advanced SQL scripts before being deemed useable by the licensing tool. One investigation took three people running a data import process and watching nearly every line of code, as the error logs were insufficient to trace back the cause of each failure. SoftwareONE found that the virtual machine data files created during discovery were invalid and were causing the failed imports. Our technical team creatively developed workarounds for each data problem, albeit perhaps a temporary fix.

SoftwareONE moved on to building compliance positions for prioritized publishers. This was our final exam. At the outset the customer wrote, “Initial compliance reports [produced by the tool] are alarmingly off.” In an all too common scenario, customers fail to realize that connecting data sources to the licensing tool does not automatically result in compliance.   And while hundreds of man-hours had been poured into loading historical entitlement information following contract reviews for licensing rights – upgrades, downgrades, mobility and other rights – the resulting outputs from the tool were still alarmingly off.  To bridge these gaps requires good old fashion hard work and human intelligence.

With the clock ticking, SoftwareONE and its team of onshore and offshore licensing experts diligently worked through every data discrepancy and reconciliation, product by product. One example of a discrepancy is publisher acquisitions and associated name changes. For example, Corel acquired Winzip in 2006 and the software resellers who had provided entitlement info omitted the older entitlements listed under Corel. Without finding this rather simple error, the customer’s compliancy breach was overstated by thousands.

In the end, our final readout to the stakeholders could not have gone better. In fact, immediately following the presentation SoftwareONE was awarded an extension of its managed services program. One executive said, “This is the first time since we’ve had this system that our application owners can go in, see an accurate compliance position and take action. This is a major accomplishment for us.” So while the license management software of our era can greatly reduce the effort required to connect and analyze massive volumes of software data, it is only one-third of the solution. The other critical ingredients are a mixture of process and people, those who have the experience and expertise to overcome and adapt to the daily SAM complexities that a tool alone cannot solve.

 

 

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