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SAM tools: managing expectations to better manage your licenses

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In a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is an old idea and robots are coming out of their cages, ready to take over more and more human work, you would expect computers and their respective software applications and tools to do all the work for you, regardless of the field you’re active in. This expectation is often present in the SAM world as well.

Many organizations believe that installing a SAM tool will come with a “click here” button that will automatically perform software license allocation, report software license compliance, provide different scenarios regarding license optimization, report software cost savings and so on. But is this a fair expectation? We’ll cover some of the misconceptions regarding SAM tools in the following sections.

Ideal world versus real world

In an ideal world, the above mentioned features would be supported by default by the SAM tools and customers could rely 100% on the SAM tool of choice to generate compliance overviews, but also usage reports generated by the tool to make financial and investment decisions.

Although it would be ideal to have a SAM tool that can deal with all the SAM challenges in a smooth and automated way, it is not real (yet). There is no SAM tool today that can offer the out-of-the-box functionality to manage, from a licensing perspective, all publishers – either they are top publishers (e.g. Oracle, IBM SAP etc.) or more ‘exotic’ ones (e.g. MathWorks). This means that there is no SAM tool today that can deal with all licensing metrics, models, usage and product conditions for all publishers, or that can provide automatic consumption allocation, license optimization, etc.

Whilst we explained in a previous article why organizations have high expectations with regards to SAM tools, in this series of articles I would like to bring more light on how SAM tools work in the real world.

When reality sets in

For organizations to get the most out of their tool investment, it’s essential to learn what are the real capabilities and functionalities of their acquired tool. This means to have the right expectations with regards to what can and cannot be achieved through a SAM tool and to understand why working together with managed services providers (MSPs) is an essential step to get full benefits of the tool.

Most SAM tools offer the following general functionalities: contract management, software inventory and compliance reporting. Both the contract management and software inventory are key elements when creating compliance reports and hence it’s important to understand their coverage and limitations within the SAM tools.

SAM tool – how does it work?

Most of the SAM tools are developed with a contract management functionality. The way it works is that, once analyzed, all proof of entitlements(e.g. POs, contracts, license agreements etc.) will be imported in the SAM tool of choice and based on that, a License Entitlements Summary will be generated. Although it seems easy, in practice it’s more complex.

The entitlement ‘data upload/import’ itself is a step-by-step procedure, usually well documented by the SAM tool provider and easy to follow. The complexity lies in the entitlement data analysis itself and the extent to which the SAM tool can interpret all contractual clauses, licensing models and metrics you are entitled for. While some licensing models and metrics are easy to be interpreted by the tool, some others are more complex and therefore difficult to be interpreted or even worse, not supported at all.

It’s sad to see that some organizations learn only during the tool implementation or even later, during the first compliance reporting, that the products with the major financial implications are licensed by metrics not supported by their SAM tool of choice.

Acknowledging this gap exists before investing in a tool helps organizations to make an informed decision when acquiring a SAM tool and also to find alternatives for reporting their more complex software licenses. It is however not an easy step, hence working with managed service providers can bring more clarity during the process.

Gathering the right technical information is the second step required to establish a compliance position and it’s most of the time a challenging situation. Many organizations have difficulties when it comes to identify all machines within their infrastructure or to identify servers with particular software running on them. Having a SAM tool in place can make this activity less challenging. While SAM tools can collect qualitative data about desktop software, when it comes to enterprise software data collection remains a challenge for most of the SAM tools. The good news is that some tools are ‘publisher certified’ and they offer alternative solutions to collect the accurate data, as requested by the publisher itself. The less good news is that these tools are ‘publisher certified’ only by one or two enterprise publishers and usually only for a product category. This means that most SAM tools have severe limitations when it comes to collecting the right enterprise software data. Similar to the contract management, it’s crucial to establish this gap as soon as possible, so alternative data gathering solutions can be found.

The right expectation

As previously mentioned, contract management and software inventory are key ‘features’ of a SAM tool when it comes to compliance reporting. It is known by now that both ‘features’ lack functionality when it comes to more complex publishers. These limitations will impact the accuracy and completeness of the compliance reports generated by the tools. Not being aware of these limitations can lead to high expectations and in some cases disappointments.

To better understand what can and cannot be achieved through a SAM tool, stay close, as the next article of this series details the contract management function within a tool.