Audits are up and tools are down – why IT Asset Managers need to ask tougher questions

Among the keynote presentations from Gartner analysts and other distinguished speakers at the analyst firm’s first ITAM event in Europe, a number of points were raised that made the IT Asset Managers in the auditorium wince.

Namely that the trend of increasing software vendor audits continues, while at the same time, IT Asset Management solutions are currently in a lifecycle phase that Gartner likes to call the ‘trough of disillusionment’.

To put it another way, more and more organizations are being audited by vendors and are having to respond to these audits using tools they have little or no faith in. Hardly an encouraging position to be in if you’re the one responsible for managing and reporting on IT assets across the corporate network.

But why are we in this situation? We probably don’t need to spend much time investigating why the volume of software audits are still increasing; it’s an entirely legitimate business (the vendor has every right under its EULA to audit software usage) and one that is providing much needed revenue to the software industry in otherwise tough times. Not that that is any consolation to end user organisations that are found to be under-licensed.

Why then are IT Asset Management tools currently held in such low regard? Well, maybe the tools vendors themselves need to take a share of the blame, and maybe the customers do too.

For those in the business of selling software, it’s sometimes all-too-tempting to over-sell the capabilities of their solution; effectively promising the earth. After all, it’s the sales rep’s job to make you buy!

And so all-too-often, products are over-sold: Want a fully integrated discovery and application deployment capability? No problem (just don’t tell the customer they’re actually two applications with completely separate admin consoles and reporting interfaces)! Want to import audit information from a third-party discovery tool and use this for license management? No problem (just don’t tell the customer you can only import a sub-set of the audit data, which has limited value for licensing)! Want 100% automatic software recognition? No problem (just don’t tell the customer that the process isn’t actually automatic at all and takes a team of out-sourced workers about two weeks to turnaround)!

In some ways you can’t blame the tools vendors for trying to sell their tools. But by asking more difficult questions, customers can hopefully avoid experiencing a brief honeymoon period followed by Gartner’s trough of disillusionment as the cracks in the chosen toolset are uncovered, the implementation time drags on and becomes more costly and the quality of information returned by the tool is called into question.

Perhaps the most succinct way to put it is to not only ask "if" (the product can do something) but also to probe into the "how". It’s far too easy for an IT Asset Management tools vendors to say yes to the "if" question; far more difficult to cover up product shortcomings when they are asked "how".

Finally, another potential cause for ITAM solutions wallowing in the trough is that they were never designed for the purpose for which they are now being used. Many ITAM solutions started life as a discovery tool, an asset register or an application deployment solution.

With License Management and Software Asset Management (SAM) requirements on the increase (at a far greater rate than other ITAM areas), it’s no surprise that many tools are not delivering what their users need of them. So another lesson is to be very selective when choosing a solution for your most pressing need. There are, of course, many benefits to opting for a suite approach where you select the ‘one’ solution that meets most requirements.

The problem when adopting this approach for Software Asset Management is that adopting a solution that meets 95% of your deployment requirements, but only 60% of your license management requirements is effectively useless for license management. Thus, when the time comes for a vendor audit (now a 55%+ likelihood in any 12 month period), your selected tool will be left wanting.

So, instead license management and Software Asset Management need to be seen in their own right, and the solutions selected on their own merits. It’s not even necessarily a question of either/or. Some advanced license management tools are designed to be implemented as an overlay to existing (or co-purchased) ITAM solutions.

That way the customer really can get the best of both worlds: a comprehensive ITAM solution for the majority of their needs, and a dedicated License Management overlay that works alongside the ITAM toolset to deliver the level of information that’s required to really manage software entitlements effectively.

Sean Robinson, director of software asset management firm License Dashboard.

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