Software Asset Management Basic Considerations

The other day as I was waiting on the train platform, I bumped into an IT operations manager whom I hadn’t seen for a while. Since I normally saw him in the evening ride home I had assumed he was on holiday.

“Quite the opposite, I’m afraid,” he sighed. “We have had our major software vendors reviewing our compliance, so I have been working late and explaining our problems to leadership.”

“Didn’t go that well?” I asked.

“It wasn’t really all that bad, but we are clearly more disorganized than I thought. Well, at least that’s over for another year.”

I got the sense that they didn’t have anything formalized in the way of software asset management and that they may not be starting anything soon. My train arrived and I told him I would catch him later. While on the train I started to think about this a bit more. Here are a few areas to consider as a start.


One of the first challenges is managing our software is how it is governed. What is the policy and process to request, approve, procure, manage and retire what you have in your software library. Sounds like a no-brainer, but in some cases, this is not formally outlined which is where we have problems from the start. This allows us to have the right amount of software available, for the right people in a way that makes sense for our business.

Another common problem for those who are not managing software effectively is not truly understanding what the software does or doesn’t do. For example, all people might ask for the professional version of some software when all they need is the standard version. Not getting this right can have some significant costs associated that could be easily avoided. This plays back to the governance piece. In the example above, standard version requires manager sign-off while pro needs a director approval.

Don’t forget that while we typically think of this as a desk-side issue with individual installations, there are also risks with installing on a server. In these cases many people may be able to access the software in question, so we should understand what implications that may have on the licensing for that particular application.

To be truly proficient at managing the software, we should not only manage the software, but we should also have a good understanding where all the associated documents like contracts and license agreements are stored and who manages them. Asset management needs to be managed just like any other process and is not a side effect of something else.

Don’t forget about people

Operational challenges aside, people add another degree of complexity to our ability to manage software assets.

First, think about the ability to install locally for the business. By this I am speaking directly to the ability for people to be a local admin on their workstations. When they have this ability, we run a serious risk of people with all types of software that they might believe to be free but have not fully considered any terms or conditions that could be a challenge down the road. I won’t even touch on the security aspects.

Ensuring that the business has a good dialog with IT will improve the ability to have fit for purpose software available. in many cases the business will need some new tool to facilitate some component of their work. The discussion in a demand setting will start to ask the questions if we need to purchase something new, or if there are functions in an existing tool that can accommodate the new requirement. This will also be the precursor to replace software as it is no longer required.

Start with the End in Mind

While the first inclination for most is to use a tool to manage this whole thing you must know how your asset process works first. A tool isn’t going to fix things for you, only help you to manage the processes you have in place.

If you don’t have a formalized process in place get on it. For every activity that is not being managed in a formalized way you are likely sinking money down the drain.

If you do have some process in place evaluate where the holes are to make those improvements to the process.

Ensure that you set yourself up for success by making agile improvements that can be reviewed, measured, communicated, and repeated.

You don’t need to do this alone, there are many experts in this field, so don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. Enlist the help of one to ensure continued success.

This can be a huge undertaking so don’t expect to get it all sorted out right away. By using the points above you should be able to establish a road-map and execute on it to be able to get some measurable success.