ITAM Is Still Broken, But We Can Fix It

CxO Governance Home IT Asset Management Management Risk & Audit Software

by | January 18, 2021


The IT Asset Management (ITAM) industry is still failing, on many occasions, to provide consistent value and protection to businesses who are fighting to safeguard and optimise their IT investments. Those who have invested in services or technologies designed to reduce IT spend, protect against compliance risk or to automate laborious licence management processes are often left disappointed and remain at risk financially from vendor audits and software waste.

I have worked in ITAM since its early days and have been on “both sides” of an industry that has grown and evolved significantly. The first part of this journey involved assisting one of the “Big Four” firms to launch its licence compliance audit practice in the UK. It was there that I saw first-hand the powerless position that organisations can be put in by software vendors and their audit partners, leading me to later switch sides.

In 2013, I founded FisherITS with a mission to help businesses defend against unfair audit practises, level the enterprise licensing playing field and measure value from their IT investments. Most importantly, I made sure that we have remained completely independent of any software vendors.

In this second part of the journey I have witnessed, in contrast to the hard-won successes with our own clients, how millions of dollars and years of effort have been invested by many businesses towards ITAM, without delivering any long-term business value. These businesses are often little better off than they were ten years ago when it comes to effectively managing their IT investments, ensuring they are compliant with complex vendor rules or purchasing what they actually need in the first place.

A large part of blame, through ignorance and commercial bias, is the ITAM market’s water has long been muddied by fake news such as “a good tool automates all”, “Cloud will make all compliance problems go away” or “ITAM has no use as long as you know how to tough-play your suppliers.” This makes the already inconvenient truth of ITAM even harder to be seen, let alone understood and appropriately actioned upon by businesses.

What follows is a market filled with “ghost tools” that have been running with no or poor data for years, useless ELPs that no one reads or cares about (but may have taken a lot of effort to be created), “top tips guides” published by marketing teams and analysts with no frontline experience and CVs of “SAM Specialists” with two years of relevant experience yet claim on expertise in all vendor licensing, plus ISO 19770.

So, what is wrong with our industry and how did we get here?

The Six Key Problems We Face

1. Big Vendors v Customers – The Asymmetry of Power

In the market that we operate in, I have rarely seen an end user organisation intentionally violate licence agreements, hoping to get away with ripping off a vendor’s IP. It does happen, but the extent does not justify the approach that many of the vendors take to enforce their compliance programmes. The reason that IT Asset Management exists today in its current form is due to the complex and varied nature of software vendor licensing rules and the aggressive tactics many of the vendors take to drive revenue through organisations unknowingly falling foul of compliance requirements.

The monopolistic tendencies of the big vendors (software is often a “winner takes all” market) failing to adopt cross-industry standards, insisting on obscure licensing frameworks, restricting access to critical licensing information and continuing with aggressive audits makes it very difficult to be a customer. It is challenging enough for a customer organisation to not fall foul of a vendor’s licensing enforcement, let alone ensure they are on the best deal possible and ensuring IT budgets are fully optimised.

2. SAM Programmes Are Not Delivering Business Value

The creation of a SAM or wider ITAM programme within an organisation is often event driven. Pain is felt, usually in the form of an audit, and the programme is rushed into without a proper strategy or determining what success should look like and what measurable business value can be achieved. Internal SAM teams will often focus on producing Effective Licence Positions (ELPs) for their major software publishers. Our industry is full of ELP providers who don’t go far beyond the number crunching, but often this work is not followed up with meaningful insights into the best course of action for the client. This work should be a part of the means to an end, not the end itself as there is little value in an ELP as an end product.

What’s more, SAM commonly operates in its own silo within a business – a symptom from that initial knee-jerk set up – and therefore engagement with the wider business can be lacking. SAM is silent in many organisations and is notoriously terrible at sharing success and demonstrating value to wider stakeholders.

This is not sustainable. An unfortunate, but common, manifestation here is that when budget gets tight or key people leave an organisation, the SAM operation simply gets cut. SAM needs to reinvent itself from a necessary evil to a value driver for all organisations.

3. The Misunderstanding of Tools

I am not here to trash SAM tools in any way. There is now a healthy range of tool vendors on the market and organisations who decide to invest in technology should take care in selecting the right tool for their specific requirements. When correctly configured and adequately managed, SAM tools can automate hugely complex and laborious licence management tasks and provide a key repository for SAM and ITAM data and lifecycle management processes. The problem centres on the perception of what a SAM tool will provide to the business, the people and process that should be in place to implement and run the tool and the validation and scrutiny of what a tool is actually doing.

No accounting software can make you an instant accountant, similarly, no SAM tool will make an untrained IT staff a Software Asset Manager overnight. Unable to understand what SAM is and to subsequently define the tooling requirement, many organisations approached the tooling matter the opposite way: buying a tool based on sales slides and in hope that “someone in IT will figure it out”.

What comes next is usually a significant underestimation in what the real investment is required for SAM tool to support their business goals. The heavy up-front investment in setting up, configuring and accurate integration, the challenges to deploy in complex IT infrastructures, and the significant effort required to ensure clean data is made available to feed the system in the first place – all are often downplayed by the sales team and ignored as inconvenient truth by the “hoping-for-best” purchasers.

Finally, as the core libraries and algorithms in most SAM tools are different, usually blackboxed (but not necessarily up-to-date or correct), it is difficult, if not impossible, to scrutinise the output from these tools. Even when the numbers clearly do not make sense, extracting the required data from these systems for independent validation is often very challenging. After all – if you don’t know maths then you will have to hope that the calculator is always right.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of “ghost” SAM tools which became the very problem that they were designed to address.

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