This is the second of two posts related to the challenges SMBs often encounter finding asset management software that matches their functional requirements, resource limitations, and budgets. You can read the first post in the series here.
In this post I’ll explore five functional areas where SMBs have been underserved both by large, enterprise-oriented suites, as well as by the more basic, lower-cost computer inventory products.
1) License management capabilities
License compliance is, of course, an area companies of all sizes need to be concerned with. And show me even one SMB that doesn’t want to avoid paying for licenses that aren’t being used. Unfortunately, license management is an area where more basic computer inventory tools fail to provide adequate capabilities. For example, few of the inexpensive “SAM” tools measure software usage, a capability that’s critical to understand whether software investments are being utilized. Furthermore, precious few are able to reconcile licensing information with software inventory and application usage data. With no means of connecting license counts with actual deployments and usage, it’s extremely challenging to determine where an organization is under- or over-licensed. Surprisingly, even many of the enterprise-oriented solutions don’t properly integrate software usage, meaning that one of the primary goals of SAM among any size organization is left unfulfilled.
2) Software identification methods
Many tools also lack a method of accurate software identification. Less expensive technologies (and even some of the more expensive ones) use identification techniques based on file headers, registry analysis or the installer (MSI) database to recognize installed applications. However, these techniques are notoriously incomplete and inaccurate, leading to under-counting, over-counting , and misclassification of software titles. Many of the more costly SAM solutions geared toward larger organizations use proprietary software catalogs to identify applications–generally a more accurate and comprehensive approach–but, as previously discussed, due to the additional cost and overhead of implementing such solutions, SMBs generally don’t utilize this methodology. (To learn more about the importance of accurate software identification, read my blog post on the topic.)
3) Reporting capabilities
SMBs, like any Fortune 1000 company, look for SAM solutions that answer pressing IT and business questions related to effectively managing costs and risks associated with software investments. For example: What’s installed and on which machines? Is it properly licensed? Is it being used? How much did it cost? And so on. Enterprise-oriented solutions are typically designed to help organizations answer SAM-related questions, but many tools geared toward smaller companies lack reporting that’s robust enough to answer such questions without additional functionality (i.e. software metering, license reconciliation, etc.) or a great deal of manual data manipulation. Cheaper SAM tools often generate a lot of raw data but do not provide a means of organizing or analyzing that data and presenting it in a manner that enables informed, swift decision-making.
4) Support for virtual environments
Virtualization adoption is increasing rapidly among SMBs, especially as increased competition has begun to drive down technology and implementation costs. Unfortunately, many SAM tools designed for the lower end of the market do not yet support virtual environments. For example, many technologies neither automatically recognize the presence of virtual machines or software residing on virtual machines nor recognize the relationship between host machines and guest machines. Although these capabilities are often requirements for SMBs, it’s generally the enterprise-oriented solutions that offer the richest features in this respect — albeit along with tradeoffs that may be unacceptable or prohibitive to SMBs. (Read my blog post related to the challenges of managing licenses in a virtualized environment.)
5) Technical support
One final area where SMBs are generally underserved is related to the delivery of technical support. Less expensive, less sophisticated inventory tools are typically offered by ISVs at a low cost and minimal level of support. Support for such tools is often outsourced, limited to e-mail and/or provided by staff with little technical expertise or understanding of licensing issues. On the flip side, some of the framework SAM tool vendors view SMB customers as second-class citizens, delivering a correspondingly inferior level of attention and support.
With all these challenges, are there any attractive choices for SMBs? The best options for SMBs are often the “point solutions” geared toward the mid-market. These technologies typically have a targeted set of capabilities exclusively tied to SAM, in contrast to offering SAM features that are “add-ons” to broader IT management solutions. Such products, because they have richer SAM capabilities than basic inventory tools, inevitably have a higher price tag than their less sophisticated counterparts. But they are generally much more affordable than enterprise-oriented SAM solutions and much easier to deploy and manage on an ongoing basis. These characteristics are unique–and critical–to SMBs that are trying to get software asset management right.
Ironically, many of these point products have been gobbled up by larger ISVs and integrated–often poorly–into their suite products and/or portfolios of offerings. The end result is that much of the specialized SAM functionality, domain expertise, and dedicated support that previously characterized these offerings have been at best, diluted, and at worst, abandoned altogether. But despite the disappearance or transfiguration of many of these products, there is still a healthy and competitive landscape of point products that should be considered by SMBs when seeking to implement an effective and “right-sized” SAM program.