What’s in a name?

Software Asset Management has had to evolve for the needs of today. Should it still be referred to as Software Asset Management? Matt Fisher charts its evolution.

I first entered what we now know as the Software Asset Management (SAM) market in 2004 when I took up the position of VP Marketing at a small British software developer named Centennial Software (high five if you’re experienced – not old – enough to remember Centennial Discovery). 

I don’t honestly remember if we called ourselves a ‘Software Asset Management’ solution back then, or whether the phrase came a few years later (I seem to remember it originally being a Microsoft invention, as they moved away from compliance audits). But either way, here in 2018 it’s a phrase that’s been with us for 10 or more years.

That’s a long time in technology.

Think about it. In 2004, you were lucky if you had an internet speed of 2,178kbps (today it’s more than 12 times faster).

The Apple iPhone launched in 2007.  In the intervening 11 years, much has changed and I doubt many of us would have been able to predict how our lives would be so utterly dictated by what we used to call ‘smartphones’ (I think most of us today have reverted to just calling them ‘phones’).

Once the default exhibition freebie, in 2005 you might be lucky enough to land yourself a 4GB USB flash drive.  Now you have to hunt down the back of the sofa to find your long-lost 128GB version.

And software? Well arguably software isn’t even on the same planet today as it was 10 years ago.

Back in the mid-2000s, software was predominantly:

Today the picture is very different.  And if Software Asset Management was too advanced a term for 2004, when most the world’s organizations were barely getting to grips with software inventory, audit and license compliance, maybe today we’ve reached the point where the term has become a redundant misnomer.


For several reasons.  First, I’m not sure people outside IT see software as ‘software’ any more. Do you think of the apps on your (smart)phone as software? Well, yes, so do I. But let’s face it, we know a thing or two about software.

To the uninitiated; those that never had to load an entire Windows operating system onto a bare-metal desktop PC via more floppy disks than you could shake a stick at (usually held together with a rubber band for fear of losing one of the disks); or those that have never installed Norton Antivirus from a CD; I’m not sure they see the apps and technology they use as software

Do the call center operatives or sales reps accessing ServiceNow or Salesforce via their laptops and mobiles see that as software?

Do the marketing teams using WeTransfer or Dropbox to share multi-gigabyte design files see that as software?

I’m not sure they do.  Software as a term has something of an old-school legacy feel about it; it doesn’t feel very current in a SaaS and mobile-dominated world.

Irrevocable change

Even if we accept that it is indeed software, the relationship between the software and the device used to host and/or access it has changed irreversibly since the mid-2000s.  Whether it’s the advent of processor-based licensing (or the many iterations thereof), the introduction of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes and secondary use rights, or the continuing growth of company-issued mobile devices, managing the software is no longer enough to be doing Software Asset Management effectively.

You now need to manage – or at least know a lot about – the device and user as well.  And that gets even more complicated when the device isn’t physical (or indeed when the ‘user’ isn’t human). Virtual machines add a level of complexity to managing software that few of us had to worry about in 2005 (VMware Player was launched in the October of that year).

So, here we are in 2018, and the whole way that the organization consumes (let alone selects and procures) technology in all its forms has changed radically. And all the time, the prevailing wisdom from the likes of Gartner is that around 85-90% of all organizations worldwide still don’t have an effective Software Asset Management practice in place. 

Perhaps it’s already too late.  Perhaps Software Asset Management is already old hat?

Well, yes and no. 

The Software Asset Management sector has always suffered from something of an identity crisis, due in no small part to the fact that several software vendors deliberately re-labeled what were most definitely audit programs as Software Asset Management programs in an effort to make them appear less threatening and aggressive (and, to be fair, in some cases their practices finally caught up with the re-brand, although some never did!).   

So, for a long time, we had Software Asset Management, Software License Compliance, Software Audit, Discovery, Inventory and other terms all being used to define essentially the same thing – staying on the right side of software licensing rules. It was only later that organizations started to realize the benefits of right-sizing their licensing agreements, proactively re-harvesting under-used software licenses, scrutinizing spend on support contracts and more.

Ever since I’ve been involved in developing and marketing SAM solutions, we’ve had a challenge getting the C-Suite to buy into the benefits.  And I think a large part of that is down to the deep-rooted connections between SAM, audit and compliance. It’s not sexy and never will be (although some might argue with good cause that a 30% saving on your annual software bill is pretty sexy, especially when that money can be reinvested in business transformation projects).

We face a two-fold challenge. SAM isn’t sexy and Software Asset Management isn’t really what SAM is about today.

It sounds like a re-brand is in order?

It wouldn’t be the first time. What we used to call help desks or IT support, we now call Service Management. What we used to call Shadow IT, we now simply call business.

Can’t we just reinvent SAM for the next generation?

We could. And some are already trying to do so. You’ve probably seen the emergence of the term Technology Asset Management.  As a catch-all term, it has some merits. It encompasses the need to manage all forms of technology consumption – whether on premise or in the cloud, on laptops or mobiles, physical or virtual. 

But it’s worth acknowledging that a name is just a name (remember what I said about the birth of Software Asset Management as a name).  Without the capabilities to achieve the organization’s aims, the name means nothing.

And it is this that shapes our thinking at Snow Software.

We’re not really ones for fancy TLAs (three-letter acronyms) or clever marketing slogans. It must be something about our Swedish heritage. What we are all about is providing the right tools and experience to our customers to address the prevailing business challenges.

And today that means managing the licensing and availability of on-premises software, both desktop and datacenter. It means managing mobile devices and SaaS application consumption as part of the core technology portfolio. It means better understanding user behaviour. It means helping customers avoid sprawl of all kinds, be that software, IaaS and PaaS or virtualization. And it means automating as much of that as possible.

Some of our customers call that Software Asset Management. Some of them call it IT Governance.  Some of them are even adopting the Technology Asset Management label. Some of them just call it good practice. 

Ultimately, we call it Snow. As long as our customers realize the value of our solutions, what labels they use is very much their call. 

To learn how Snow can help you gain visibility over technology consumption across your organization, why not take a 20-minute executive briefing with me or one of our experts?