Use free tools

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2008-01-11 Print this article Print

The Business Software Alliance is not afraid to audit your company's software assets and make you pay. Baseline shows you how to avoid them altogether in 8 easy steps.

3. Use available free tools.
Software asset management tools don't have to be expensive. There are a host of free tools available to budget-strapped businesses hoping to jumpstart a SAM program. Besides enforcing licensing cases, the BSA also expends a lot of energy providing businesses with free resources to keep track of their software licensing and stay out of trouble.

"The bottom line is we have a number of tools on our website which is a really good starting point for any company to start getting their arms around the problem," said Jenny Blank, director of enforcement for the BSA.

And paranoid businesses needn't worry—they won't be dinged for coming to the BSA for help.

Don't think it can happen to your company? Take a look at 12 companies who were fined by the BSA in 2007.

"All I can tell you that it is not in our interest to have someone come to us for help and then to turn around and sting them in some way," she said. "We want companies to feel comfortable with the tools we're making available and we don't track or trace or log people, we want people to come to us."

These tools and educational modules offered by the BSA are only a small sliver of the free SAM resources out there for businesses to use.

Many major software vendors, including Microsoft, offer free SAM tools and advice to help their customers get a solid view of their software and license inventories.

"SAM is our preferred approach to customer compliance," Rivera said, explaining why Microsoft offers these resources. "We know that customers for the most part want to do the right thing. We want to help them move forward so that an out of control situation doesn't happen again. It is not about punishing the customer; we would rather look through the windshield than the rear view mirror."

4. Remember software asset management is a process.
Of course, technology is not a panacea. Rivera emphasizes that SAM is a process, not a technology.

"It's not just an IT problem," he said. "We have seen some customers who bought inventory tools and they thought they were done and then three years alter they were in the same situation that they were in before."

This is because they didn't put any procedures in place to act on the information provided by the technology. In order to truly get control, an organization will need IT to police software installations, it will need HR to put policies in place that regulate end-user software use, it will need the help of finance to keep track of purchase records and help with projections for future software buys and upgrades.

The overall mechanism created by these procedures will be a process that continually keeps track of the software throughout the lifecycle.

5. Put one person in charge of software asset management.
One of the key words in SAM is centralization. Having receipts and inventory information in a centralized location is critical to getting a reliable snapshot of the organization's assets.

One of the best ways to facilitate the process of centralizing information is to consolidate SAM duties and put one person in charge of overseeing the process.

"It's very easy in organizations to have software purchased by many different people or business units, so you want to have a control mechanism in place to ensure that the proof of these purchases is stored in a central location," Helland said. "The answer is having a point person and make it part of their job description to be in communication with all of those other offices. The beauty of having this person and the way you get buy in from diverse branch offices is both the fear of a BSA audit and also the value proposition that they are going to be saving from centralized purchasing."

6. Ask your reseller for help.
If your organization really and truly doesn't have the budget to implement software asset management processes immediately, one affordable alternative is to turn to your software reseller for assistance.

"One of the things I recommend is letting your (reseller) vendors do it," Scott said. "Whoever your vendor is, choose the ones that can manage this for you as much as possible and consolidate it so that you can go to one online portal and look at all of your entitlements."

This can be an especially big help for smaller enterprises who rely heavily on resellers to source their software and hardware. Many resellers such as Dell and CDW have improved their portals and have amped up their software asset management assistance programs as a way to add to their value proposition. If an organization has absolutely no SAM in place, the best way to cover their bases would be to take advantage of this.

7. Clean house after a merger or acquisition.
Even organizations with mature software asset management procedures can run into problems with their software vendors and with the BSA when they start growing. Attorneys such as Scott and Helland say that they frequently see clients who have purchased all of their software legally still facing BSA allegations after a merger or acquisition muddled their record-keeping efforts.

"One area where businesses who intend to do the right thing run into trouble is with poorly documented merger and transition transactions, where you have a situation where one company will acquire another and they will legitimately acquire a lot of the licenses of the acquired entities but the paperwork and any registration will be done poorly or not done at all," Helland said. "And so then , five years later, when the BSA comes calling , everybody thinks they have paid for all of their licenses--and in fact they have paid for all of their licenses they just are not able to document it very effectively."

After any M&A activity, he recommends focusing on the newly acquired technology to ensure that proper documentation is in place to defend against audits.

8. Engage with your vendor more regularly.
While it may not always work, many attorneys will advise their clients to appeal to their software vendor for clemency should the BSA come banging the door down. But this will only work if the vendor already has a good relationship with the organization and knows who they are.

"If you are only engaging with your vendor or your reseller once every couple of years, you are doing yourself a disservice," said DiDio. "You really want to have a relationship with these people."


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