No-one said SAM would be easy…

As anyone embarking on a Software Asset Management (SAM) program for the first time quickly learns, there’s really no such thing as “push-button SAM”. Sure, you can pay a services provider to take away some of the pain, especially if you opt for a hosted SAM platform, but if your organization takes the on-premise route and doesn’t have millions of dollars to throw at professional services, then you need to sit down, buckle up and get ready for a bit of a roller-coaster ride.

As anyone embarking on a Software Asset Management (SAM) program for the first time quickly learns, there’s really no such thing as “push-button SAM”. 

Sure, you can pay a services provider to take away some of the pain, especially if you opt for a hosted SAM platform, but if your organization takes the on-premise route and doesn’t have millions of dollars to throw at professional services, then you need to sit down, buckle up and get ready for a bit of a roller-coaster ride. That perhaps sounds a bit odd coming from someone whose job it is to try to sell you on Software Asset Management. 

But let me explain. Software Asset Management isn’t easy.  It never was and it never will be. The sheer complexity and diversity of software and device usage means that there will never be a push-button approach to SAM (at least, not one that actually works!).

Without the aid of a working crystal ball, there’s no way the SAM solutions vendors can model accurately in advance the new licensing schemes that software publishers will come up, or how changing end user habits will drive further licensing changes. By its very nature, there is always going to be an element of catch-up as SAM practitioners and solutions providers react to what the publishers do. I’d like to think that at Snow we do this better than most. 

Parts of our offering such as the Software Recognition Service mean that we can react very quickly to events such as new application releases or changes in licenses, so our customers are equipped to optimize their licensing, taking advantage of usage rights and ensuring they don’t fall foul of compliance requirements. Our own customer satisfaction surveys tell us our customers think we do a good job, with 88% of large organizations awarding us a four or five-star rating overall. That’s all good. But it would be for nothing if our customers couldn’t actually use the solution.

 And by that I mean couldn’t collect data or make sense of it.

Why is it okay to be unhappy with your SAM solution?

Attending industry events, I often get to speak with SAM professionals from all types of organizations, using a wide variety of Software Asset Management solutions. And while some are very happy with their choices, others are not.

Common criticisms seem to be an inability to keep pace with changing licensing schemes, lack of clean data to work with and incomplete coverage of the IT estate. But then when I ask, “well, why are you still using that solution?”, the response typically goes one of two ways. It’s either: “We’d like to change, but it’s too much hassle” or “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, SAM is a long-haul”. Both of these statements are valid.  But they are equally flawed.  And here’s why.

Rolling out SAM doesn’t have to be slow, difficult and expensive

There is a perception I encounter, especially among larger organizations, that it’s okay for a SAM technology roll-out to take years to achieve and cost millions of dollars.  I can feel my sales colleagues glaring at me as I write this; but it’s not. Getting the SAM solution to the point of delivering accurate and timely data, even across tens or hundreds of thousands of devices, does not need to take years.  In most cases, it doesn’t even need to take months. 

All it takes is a little planning and a solution that offers most of its functionality out-of-the-box. 

The faster you start collecting data, the more quickly you will build the historic intelligence required to optimize the organization’s licensing position. If that sounds like an over-simplification, speak to a Snow customer and ask them how long their initial implementation took: 44% of Snow customers implement and start gathering usable data within two weeks, 67% in less than a month*. And they did it without spending millions of dollars on professional services. 

Typically, we see customers commit around 15-30 per cent of their total SAM acquisition costs on the services to implement and help populate the platform with usable data. That’s a fraction of the cost I hear from the typical unhappy SAM customer I speak to. If that sounds like I am supporting a slipshod approach to ‘quick ‘n easy SAM’; far from it. 

I’m simply asking why you would spend $1 million to achieve nirvana at some undetermined point in the future, when (let’s say) a tightly-defined $30,000 professional services engagement could get you 80% there in three months or less? Put another way, do you want to drive that Tesla Model Z at some point in the future while your 2002 Ford lies broken in the garage, or do you want the Audi R8 now?

SAM doesn’t need to be complex

Actually, let me correct that. SAM is complex, as we’ve established. But the technology doesn’t need to be. Integrations is a common buzzword you hear when organizations are looking to implement SAM, and indeed we strongly believe at Snow that clean actionable SAM data offers a massive value to other parts of the business. 

But before rushing to the conclusion that you need to integrate, perhaps it’s worth first asking why and how? For most organizations, integration means having SAM data available to other systems. 

That’s not difficult. In fact, in most cases it’s very easy. And quick.  And cost-effective. Ask yourself first what the value / benefit of any integration is, then you’ll be in a position to decide how much it’s worth paying for it, and how much pain you should accept in the process.

It’s too difficult to change SAM solutions

As for the argument that it’s difficult to move from one technology to another, I’m going to have to disagree on that one too. The best defense that a SAM solution provider can rely on is that the customer won’t have the budget – or the appetite to spend, at least – to replace the technology. Technologically, it’s not that difficult to switch. SAM data can be migrated (or replaced with better data) extremely quickly. Integrations can be replaced in a matter of hours or days at most. Management reports can be customized in minutes.

The question for the customer is where is the line drawn?  At what point does perservering with a project or technology that’s not delivering cost more than switching to a new technology or service provider?  

That’s a call only the customer organization can make, and it’s further complicated by internal politics and the fact that sometimes the SAM team themselves had little or no influence over the technology that was implemented.  But to say it can’t be done is the wrong argument.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to make the change

When we talk about 4th Generation SAM at Snow, one of the concepts we explain is how the data from SAM solutions is critical to many areas of business and IT operations.  Whether it’s ITAM, the Service Desk or other solutions, there is more riding on having clean, usable SAM intelligence than ever before.  Every minute you don’t have that data available, or aren’t actioning, or basing business decisions on it, is costing your organization. 

And the bill is getting higher and higher as that software use both increases and diversifies. Therefore the ‘wait and see’ or ‘it’ll be okay eventually’ attitude just doesn’t fly. I know some SAM managers that are probably getting frustrated as they read this. 

They’re yelling at their screens that they know this already and that their boss, or bosses, won’t listen and the message from above is to just get on with it. There is a glimmer of hope. 

Analysts at Gartner just released a report that states that the C-Level is now more invested in Software Asset Management than ever, with nearly 70% of SAM teams now reporting into a C-Level stakeholder.  

Historic frustrations with inability to gain buy-in from senior managers (which we will address separately in an upcoming blog) need to be put aside and fresh business cases prepared to support the tough decision about cancelling one project to restart with another provider. It’s imperative to find a way to communicate to the business that it isn’t okay to be months or years into an implementation and still have black holes in the network or a lack of actionable data. 

It isn’t okay for your professional services bill to go sky high for no demonstrable benefit.  It isn’t okay to spend just as much time managing software and licenses as you did before you began the implementation. There is an ongoing healthy debate as to whether SAM is a cost or a benefit to an organization, with strong views on both sides. 

What we know for sure is that SAM has a zero chance of delivering benefit if the technology doesn’t even work. If this situation sounds all-too familiar, don’t automatically assume you’re just going to have to stick it out and enjoy that roller-coaster ride a little (lot) longer. Talk to other SAM professionals and solutions providers. 

See if they have they have what it takes to convince you (and help you build the business case ) that making a change is the right decision. No-one likes to admit they made a bad call and bought the wrong technology. But making the change early enough will likely prove far less uncomfortable than sticking it out only to determine you should have taken action months or years ago.

After all, SAM is difficult enough without your solution or provider making it more so.  

* source: Techvalidate Snow Customer Survey, 2015