Know your assets

The credit crunch is getting the private sector down. And many of those same financial events are likely to have a knock-on impact on the public sector too.
Both sectors require a robust approach to cost control as well as a firm handle on their risk exposure and overall compliance situation in order to deliver predictability and reassurance in an uncertain world. And one of the areas that they should be getting under control quickly is their IT estate.
IT is so pervasive in organisations today. It is difficult to find a central government department or a local council whose business operations and communications do not depend on technology. So the smooth running of IT is critically important to the ongoing success of an organisation.

Keep control
In our complex and fast-changing world, however, maintaining control is not as easy as it might sound. Public sector organisations have an obligation to ensure that their software is properly licensed, and that the IT environment is managed effectively in order to minimise wasted resources. And yet those same organisations are inundated with policies and procedures relating to the latest government guidelines or legislation. For example, there are 21 pieces of legislation that affect their IT environment and many organisations are either in denial or completely ignorant of these.
So with the decline in the economy, and government finances heavily committed, it’s time for public sector organisations to optimise their IT estate and curb any over-expenditure. In the past two months FAST Professional Services has found and saved in excess of £2 million worth of un-utilised licenses for its members.
Effective configuration management and software asset management can save huge amounts of money, both in the short and longer term, for government and public sector organisations. For example:

  • A public sector organisation with an estate of 3,000 desktops and 300 servers found a £600,000 overspend on software licences.
  • A company with about 3,000 seats uncovered £1,300,000 of over-licensed applications.

Despite the public sector’s obligation to be frugal with resources, organisations still have a propensity to overspend on software licences. When FAST Ltd has undertaken gap analysis on local government organisations, it has found huge areas of overspend because of a lack of even the basic principles of management of software, with organisations simply not understanding what assets they have, where they are and who is using them.

Why is this important? Well, software compliance is key because it’s the legal right of any organisation to ensure that it is not using licences incorrectly, either through naiveté or through a desire not to do anything about it.
Configuration management (the detailed recording and updating of information that describes an organisation’s computer systems and networks) can go some way to help. But organisations do need to be careful with configuration management to avoid taking on too much or focusing on high-risk areas. This means doing a risk assessment to assess what the organisation’s needs are, what is it trying to achieve, what the high-risk areas are and what the benefits are.
Configuration and asset management can certainly help when it comes to speed of deployment. The greater the speed with which the IT department can get software into the organisation, whether it’s a government department or a private sector company, the more efficient the organisation will be. It’s about being able to plan, knowing what you’ve got and where it is, as well as planning requirements for the future.
The overall message to public sector organisations is that efficient management of hardware and software assets, including software licences, will not only create a benchmark for efficiency and governance within the organisation, it will also prevent organisations from getting caught short when a vendor decides to do a software audit. Beware, there is a real risk of this happening: some 55 per cent of companies have been subject to a software publisher audit within the last twelve months.

Negative press
The damage to the organisation’s reputation if news gets out into the public domain can be considerable. Imagine the headline “Local government wastes £3m of taxpayers’ money” by over-licensing or being under-licensed. Preventing such reports really comes down on the configuration management side to making sure that organisations concentrate their efforts in the right areas.
Configuration management is not a new term, but it’s central to the ITIL philosophy of service management in that all of an organisation’s IT assets should be structured in such a way and this is termed as a ‘configuration item’.
A configuration item is a group of assets within a configuration management database (CMDB) that is effectively a large asset management database. For example, a configuration relationship can exist between a computer that has a printer tied to it, that is also attached to a server, can access applications and also has software installed on it.
The software, the computer, the printer and possibly even the server resources used are ‘a configuration’ and to effectively manage, the organisation needs to know all of the make-up, all of the DNA of all of these assets.
It’s a huge task to account for everything an organisation owns in its environment. So configuration management costs – often driven by going down the ITIL framework route and building a CMDB – can be a very expensive outlay and may only apply to medium to large organisations or government departments. There may well be significant savings in the long-term but smaller companies are often switched off by the resource requirements needed upfront to implement new ITIL processes.
Smaller and medium sized businesses or government departments would therefore benefit more quickly from having effective software asset management (SAM) processes because this is often where the quick wins are, rather than going to the nth degree of configuration management costs.
SAM involves managing and optimising the procurement, deployment, maintenance, utilisation, and disposal of software within an organisation. Fundamentally intended to be part of an organisation’s information technology business strategy, the goals of SAM are to reduce information technology costs and limit operational, financial and legal risk within the business related to the ownership and use of software.
The business needs for SAM are well-documented, and cover compliance, legislation, regulation and contractual obligation, good corporate governance for software assets, vulnerability and patch management, incident management and risk management – all essential disciplines of any good best practice framework.
The business benefits include giving the organisation a better negotiating position, improved and strategic infrastructure planning, prevention of the over-deployment of software, reduced hardware costs, improved software purchasing agreements, reduced costs of internal support for licensing, reduction in process and direct infrastructure costs, and a reduction in problem resolution costs.
In addition, having good sound SAM processes in place tends to mean an improvement in the time to market in delivering products and services. Given the current state of both the economy and government finances, any improved time to market in the provision of services will be more than welcome.

Phil Heap is head of consultancy and membership products and services at FAST

About FAST

FAST Ltd is the UK’s leading authority in Software Asset Management and IT Compliance, helping organisations get from A to B in the most cost effective, informed and complete way. For over 24 years we have helped 8,000 businesses with our knowledge, understanding, expertise, impartial advice, software tools, methodology and training, which is why our membership retention is as high as 86 per cent.
Being independent gives us a dynamic edge over other SAM organisations as we are not targeted by the sale of licences, but rather focused on providing a solution or service that works for our members.

Are you applying best practice software asset management?
Some questions for readers to ask themselves as this may act as an indicator as to whether you are applying best practice Software Asset Management: The SAM Strategy Acid Test

  • Do you know how many computers, laptops, and servers your organisation currently has in use?
  • Do you have a software licence for all software programmes installed on your computers, laptops, and servers? 
  • Are you confident that no employees have made unauthorised copies of your software? 
  • Do you have an approved software list? 
  • Did you acquire all the software installed on your computers, laptops, and servers from reputable sources?
  • Does your organisation have a written policy for copying software and/or purchasing software licences?
  • Are you confident that you are able to provide a full software licence audit and reconciliation without major impact of your day to day business?
  • Are you sure that you have the best agreement in place, offering you best prices and discounts for your software procurement?
  • Are you confident that you do not waste money in buying software licences that you don't really need?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, or if you do not have immediate and concrete answers to these questions, your organisation probably needs to implement a Software Asset Management strategy.

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