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A Buyer’s Guide to Finding the Best Software Asset Management Software

Buyer's guide

For asset managers and IT teams, it's important to identify the status of software and cloud assets by performing effective software asset management. With the right software management tools in place, businesses can gain visibility of ownership and usage of their software licenses. But, without software asset management processes in place, licensing costs can begin to spiral out of control - among other challenges. That’s why finding and deploying the best Software Asset Management Software is crucial for IT organisations that rely heavily on their software and cloud assets.

What Is Software Asset Management (SAM)?

Software asset management (SAM) is the process of managing, tracking, and monitoring a business’s entire repository of both cloud and on-premise software assets. By taking control of procurement, usage, and software license deployment, IT asset managers can gain greater visibility into how they manage their software assets.

Essentially, three key factors drive the need for engaging in software asset management; compliance, life cycle optimisation, and reducing licensing costs.

There are several advantages for businesses wanting to improve the efficiency of their software management processes with SAM, including:

  • Gaining complete visibility of all software assets
  • Reducing audit and compliance risks
  • Optimising software license usage and costs
  • Making informed decisions regarding license renewals
  • Reduce the threat of shadow IT

Although the basis of software asset management is straightforward, IT organisations should be aware that there are many different definitions of SAM. These include definitions from ITIL, Microsoft, IAITAM, SAM Charter, and BCS. It’s important to know these differences in case one organisation chooses to follow a standard that is different to another organisation.

What Does Software Asset Management Software Do?

Software Asset Management Software is a digitised system that provides the necessary tools to gain visibility into an organisation’s use of its IT assets. In particular, its purchasing and consumption of software.

One major benefit of deploying software asset management tools is having the ability to automate otherwise manual tasks and quickly gather data in one single-architecture program. This includes the tracking of software and cloud services - whether on-premise, cloud, or mobile.

By enabling asset managers and IT teams to track data regarding software procurement, consumption, license entitlements, compliance, and risk, businesses are therefore able to control and reduce their software spending. For most IT enterprises, a major contributor to excessive software spending is the cost of unused software licenses. Unused licenses make up 38% of technology waste for companies without the use of SAM tools to provide visibility into their IT expenditure.

Although the focus of SAM software is primarily on tracking and monitoring software usage, the majority of software asset management tools also provide features to manage devices and hardware - similar to IT asset management (ITAM).

By automating IT tasks regarding the use of assets such as software licenses and hardware, SAM tools provide a wide range of benefits. Including:

  • Tracking and monitoring all software licences in one single-architecture program
  • Effectively performing SaaS and software license management
  • Gaining insights into unexpected costs and expenditures
  • Staying compliant and avoiding unexpected software compliance fees
  • Understanding the life cycle of software content
  • Identifying all IT inventory from software assets, hardware, devices, to cloud services

Software Asset Management Features Needed to Meet IT Goals

Although software asset management systems can be purposely built with an organisation’s specific IT goals in mind, there are several features and capabilities that are prominent in most SAM tools.

Software License Management

Software license management (SLM) is key to reducing the overall costs of an organisation’s IT spending. Effective SLM means companies can track, monitor, and maintain all software licenses being used in one centralised system. IT asset managers are also able to provide employees with new software as requested through business cases.

Software Configuration

Replacing a configuration management database (CMDB), software configurations look at the settings established for operating applications. These include machines that host applications, users, and related IP addresses.

Software Inventory Management

Software inventory management ensures that all details regarding a businesses entire repository of software products are visible. This includes data such as what applications are available, their cost, size, type, vendor, and consumption.

Application Discovery

Application discovery enables asset managers to perform a scan on a business’s network to see what applications are installed and used. This is a great tool for preventing shadow IT practices that pose many risks from a security and audit perspective.

Purchasing and Contract Management

Software asset management tools can forecast future software usage and suggest the best licenses for a business’s needs. They can also help offer transparency with current agreements.

Compliance and Governance

Powerful reporting and control over licenses assignments allow IT asset managers to manage risks and enforce policies. Without this type of governance and compliance, IT organisations risk being handed heft fines that can impact a business’s bottom line.

Software Lifecycle Management

From provisioning to decommissioning, Software Asset Management Software offers visibility over an application’s full life cycle software deployment. Remotely controlling the distribution of applications across a network.

Usage Reporting

Detailed usage reports allow businesses to see how licenses and applications are being used. This is a key element for optimising the software estate and for driving efficiency.

The Short-Term and Long-Term Objectives of Software Asset Management

When deploying a software asset management system, it’s important for IT teams and stakeholders to understand both the short-term and long-term objectives. Typical objectives for IT enterprises include:

Employee Onboarding and Offboarding

When employees join the company, they will need access to a business’s software assets. This includes both general software, such as MS Office Suite, and role-specific applications such as Salesforce. The challenge with onboarding is to ensure that access can be granted as soon as the employee starts. Also, managing the number of available licenses is crucial. Off-boarding entails the revoking of user access when the employee leaves the company for security purposes.

License Assignment

IT asset managers need to have the ability to remotely assign licenses to users. Likewise, they should be able to revoke access remotely. Two-way communication between users and IT managers is mandatory. The most efficient communication channel is an online IT portal similar to that found in a help desk. Users can place new software requests directly to asset managers. As such, the IT department can push new software or updates to individual users.

Software Usage Monitoring

Understating what and how software is being used in the organisation can help managers to make intelligent decisions. Underusing or misusing applications result in unnecessary business costs. Whereas gaining visibility of usage builds a strong foundation for cost optimisation.

Audit Reporting

Vendor audits are, unfortunately, inevitable. But, keeping an accurate record of software licenses and usage data will help businesses pass audits unscathed. Thus avoiding any unexpected and costly non-compliance fees.

Software Life Cycle Management

Knowing the life cycle of software assets can help to accurately forecast a business’s short and long-term objectives. A typical software life cycle has five stages:

  1. Procurement: Software asset managers provide employees with new software as requested through business cases.
  2. Deployment: Installing new software on the relevant servers and machines. After, access should be distributed to all users.
  3. Support: Providing technical and operational assistance to the software’s users.
  4. Upgrades and Patching: Ensuring the software is compliant from a security perspective.
  5. Decommissioning: Old software to be disposed of and data migrated to new systems.

IT asset managers have two choices when it comes to license management; to save costs by under-licensing and therefore risking audit failures or to over-license and stray clear of audit risks by spending unnecessarily on unused licenses.

However, neither of these choices are viable in the long term.

Software management tools are specifically designed to help optimise software licenses. The added visibility and easier management help to reduce software waste and protect against audits with powerful reporting.

SAM tools are just one piece of the puzzle for audit management. IT managers will need to strategically use the tools at their disposal to ensure the best ratio between licensing and risk management.

Using SAM Tools to Optimise Enterprise IT Workflows

Effective Software Asset Management can help businesses with optimisation by offering visibility, control, application, and risk management. Here are five key benefits that a typical SAM tool provides:

Audit Management and Compliance

Vendor audits are extremely costly and can result in huge fines should contract terms be breached. The aggressive behaviours of vendors such as Oracle and Adobe require businesses to be on top of their licensing processes.

Deploying a capable software asset management tool is the best way of protecting against audits. SAM software allows users to:

  • Store information regarding licenses and their usage
  • Hold an inventory of current contracts to have all clauses at-hand
  • Provide accurate and up-to-date reports
  • Notify asset managers of risks and compliance issues

If undergoing a vendor software audit, software management systems help build a business’s case. After all, a black-on-white report containing usage and license distribution is hard to contest.

IT Cost Optimisation

Some software management tools have the capability of capturing how often applications are used. This enables businesses to determine if a piece of software is used frequently, occasionally, or seldom. IT asset managers then have the opportunity of decommissioning unused software as an easy cost-saving method.

Likewise, asset managers can launch an investigation to discover software that is used occasionally. If some features from the software are missing or employees are not happy with the tool, the software can be replaced with a more advanced application. This would therefore increase productivity while also keeping costs at a similar level.

Reporting and KPIs

Software Asset Management Software tools can highlight potential savings and overall improvements for employed software. Reporting goes up the ladder to higher management. KPI ambitions get passed down from the senior level to the specialists.

In a broader context, software asset management is crucial for an IT team to regularly hit their financial targets. Both high-level and low-level reporting are mandatory for optimisation. Understanding the number of licenses used versus the number available is a key metric for negotiating better contracts.

Here are some reporting metrics that SAM tools can use:

  • Total Licensing Costs
  • Percentage of License Spending Not in Use
  • Number of Vendors out of Compliance
  • Number of Products out of Compliance
  • Potential Savings
  • Top Products by True-up Cost
  • Top Products by Potential Savings
  • Risks Requiring Attention
  • Spend on over-licensing
  • Number of Vendors over-licensed
  • Number of products over-licensed

Improving Process Efficiency

Software asset management can help onboarding and off-boarding processes to handle large intakes without invoking downtime. This ensures a smooth experience for all parties including IT, HR, and new employees. Likewise, quick and accurate reporting reduces the time spent by the finance and IT teams for assessing quarterly and yearly costs.

Integrating a software management system in the wider IT processes is even better. For example, using data from SAM tools to automate product life cycles can cut down on the time and manpower required to bring in new products and retire old ones.

SAM tools can also automatically manage the provisioning and retiring of applications. This can either be a simple notification to the IT team or a trigger for purchasing software. With all the information stored, software asset management tools can help in circumstances such as:

  • Large intake of employees
  • Organisational restructure
  • Expired and renewed contracts
  • Vendor swapping
  • Cloud migrations

Transformation and Migration

The process of provisioning and decommissioning can require a lot of resources, especially in large organisations with thousands of software products. Non-automated processes can even lead to major blockers.

But software asset management tools help IT transformation and migration processes considerably. The end of year-long contracts can leave a business at an impasse. Software asset management can take off the pressure by:

  • Automatically revoking access to employees on a specific date
  • Giving mass access to the new software before the old one is decommissioned
  • Ensuring teams and employees are given the correct permissions
  • Minimising the overlap of both software tools being live at the same time

How to Find the Best Software Asset Management System

Finding Software Asset Management Software that is right for your IT processes depends on how you plan to utilise your SAM tool and your IT enterprise goals.

When starting your journey to finding the right SAM software, it's important to understand your current IT estate. Ask yourself: What type of IT estate do you have? What size is it? How do you manage it? For example, a Fintech startup with ten employees might use infrastructure from AWS to run its servers. A large manufacturing company with on-premise hardware may require dozens of applications so that all departments operate successfully.

The following questions will help you understand the landscape of your software and hardware assets. You can also add or modify these questions to suit your requirements:

  • Is your infrastructure hosted on-premise or in the cloud? (from a SAM perspective, this aspect is essential to determine your licensing responsibilities)
  • Is the cloud provider offering managed services including OS? If you are hosting your servers, you are responsible for OS licenses.
  • Are your applications hosted on-premise or in the cloud? Similarly, different licensing models apply to cloud-based software.
  • Do you currently have a hybrid cloud model? Hybrid clouds are hard to manage as they combine the complexity of private and public clouds.
  • What size is your organisation? Simply put – the larger the organisation, the harder to manage, the more resources you need to invest in SAM tools.
  • How many different teams do you have? Each department or line of business requires different types of software. The more varied and diverse your teams are, the more vendors and applications you have to manage.
  • Do you have a central IT team or does each operation centre handle its estate? Large organisations might prefer decentralised IT departments.

Identifying all of your current hardware and software assets can require a lot of time and resources. Here are four key points that may ease the process:

Identify Your Available Software

Identifying all your software assets can take a lot of time. But, the time put into this process can have its advantages. IT Asset Managers have two ways of identifying software:

  • Using purchase orders and databases: Most companies that adopt ITIL principles have pre-established procedures for managing assets. These can be stored in CMDBs, databases, or spreadsheets. Using such a method might require referring to multiple sources of truth. After compiling information, asset managers will have a good understanding of what software is available.
  • Using application and software discovery tools: Asset managers can automate the application discovery process using a set of specialised tools. These tools scan through devices connected to the network and retrieve a list of installed applications. Details include operating systems and network applications.

Review Your Current Software Licensing Models

Licensing models can come in many different forms that depend on the type of software and hosted environment. Licensing is a crucial part of commercially available software. It is also the central factor for software asset management tools. The most common types of licensing models are:

  • Device (perpetual): A license is assigned to an individual machine.
  • User (perpetual): A license is assigned to a named user that is required to log in using credentials to validate the license usage.
  • Networked (WAN & LAN): Applies to all machines that are on the same network infrastructure.
  • Subscription-based: A license assigned to either a user or a machine that requires monthly or annual payments.
  • General Public License (GPL) and Freeware: Licenses and software that are available for free (GPL and Freeware have different legal metrics).
  • Client Access License: Allows users to connect to the provider’s server to use applications.
  • Capacity Based License: Based on the capacity of the CPU, Hard Drive, or the number of cores.
  • Node-locked: A license that can only be used by one user at a time, but multiple users can use at subsequent times.
  • Floating: A license pool that is available to a large number of users. Upon login, a licensing system assigns the user a license which is claimed back at the end of the session.

Don't Forget Shelfware, Underused, and Duplicate Software

Shelfware is a type of software that you have purchased but not yet used. Underused licenses are those that are assigned to and used by employees but at low frequency. Duplicate software is applications that provide the same services as others, such as two-word processing applications.

Fixing issues such as shelfware, underused, and duplicate software can be a quick win. For instance, eliminating shelfware is an instantaneous cost reduction. But, reducing the number of underused and duplicate software can prove more difficult. However, it can lower the workload of IT asset managers and indirectly contribute to improving team performance.

Review Current and Historic Cloud Migrations

Cloud migrations can be highly disruptive for businesses. Therefore, any ongoing migration projects must be approached with caution. The change from on-premise equipment and operations to off-premise managed services comes with the following changes:

  • Licensing schemes and models: As infrastructure is no longer hosted on-premise, but is abstracted and provided by cloud providers, licensing now has to reflect that. The most considerable change is going from device-based licenses to capacity-based.
  • Application migrations and replacements: Some applications are not supported on cloud platforms. These need to be fully replaced by alternative solutions. Other software has a cloud-specific version that will replace the on-premise one. Either way, a transfer of users and data will have to take place.
  • Hardware and software reconfigurations: New architecture models mean that each component will have to be reconfigured to reflect new changes.
  • Changes in asset lifecycles: New provisioning, assigning, and decommissioning processes must be put in place.

To make sure you choose the best software asset management solution for your business, we’ve listed seven-points that a typical SAM tool should offer:

1. The Ability to Easily and Quickly Import Data From Current Systems

Your chosen SAM software is going to need some existing data so that you have a starting point in understanding your software assets. This data may exist in your accounting software (from where you can import information on licenses bought), SCCM, or your current SAM tool. So we recommend you fully understand how your chosen SAM software imports data from current sources.

The key factor to understand is not whether a SAM tool imports data, as almost all do, but how easy it is to import the data. Some systems require extreme knowledge of excel or need inputs from support and professional service teams. Ideally, you should develop a detailed understanding of data import conditions and scenarios before you consider purchasing SAM software.

2. Auto-Discovery Using Agent and Agent-Less Methods to Identify On-Premise Software Tools

The ability to discover software assets automatically on your network with precision is a fundamental feature of a software and license management system. The speed and precision of discovery are vital to building your software management cadence. There are some well-known agent and agent-less methods to discover software assets on a network.

But, scanning and finding software assets is only part of the discovery feature. Your SAM tool should have an inbuilt library of asset information to precisely understand software assets on your network.

3. Understanding the Usage of and Access to Cloud-Based Software Apps

Modern workplaces are now cloud-based. From accounting software to visitor management, almost all aspects of a workplace have cloud-based applications. Defence and classified industries continue to use on-premise tools, but the trend is changing there too.

Understanding the usage of cloud-based software apps can be difficult. It varies based on how the software vendor has set up its cloud infrastructure. In some cases, software applications cross over from cloud-based access to on-premise data, which adds to the complexity. Developing a clear understanding of how cloud assets are discovered and monitored is vital to your software management goals.

4. Software Usage, Metering, and Optimisation

Interlinked with the above points, we highly recommend understanding how your SAM tool is going to understand software usage and relate it to your budget and projects. This could be by users, location, or even technology.

You should also know how it is going to help you to optimise your usage, spend, and workforce productivity.

Monitoring usage, metering, and optimisation can help you to understand the parameters of your compliance levels as well as optimise costs on your software spend.

5. Software Patch Management and Updates

One of the most effective ways to drive cyber safety is to ensure your software is updated and patched. How your SAM software will enable you to mass update and mass patch your assets is vital to staying safe in fast-changing cyber environments.

6. Reporting

Software tools collect data and report converts into insight. Good IT managers then use that insight to take actionable decisions. We highly recommend that you understand the reports you need to drive your software management before purchasing a SAM tool. 

Capable SAM software will have the ability to inform and alert you to:

  • Compliance gaps and trends
  • Usage by users, location, and projects
  • Planned vs actual spend
  • Status of software updates
  • Discovery of assets on your on-premise and cloud infrastructure

7. Vendor Compatibility

Knowing that your SAM software vendor can provide the right capabilities and knowledge is essential. It’s also important that they are easily approachable. Getting to know the support team and the professional services team of your supplier before you purchase your tool helps to know if you will be looked after.

Helpful Guides for Using Software Asset Management Tools

How to Prevent Software Licensing Audits for Cloud-Based Solutions

29th Jun 2019

Software Audits cause reputational, financial and operational damage both for the IT Teams as well as the Company. Here is a practical guide to fix your software licensing audit issues.

Best Practices for Assigning IT Assets to Employees

14th Sep 2019

Get to know the best practices to assign IT Assets to employees. Covers onboarding and offboarding processes. Will optimise your IT Inventory Management.

Patch Management: A Practical Guide to Protecting Software Assets

7th Mar 2018

Get to know why the most common patch management methods are flawed and why you should take a human-tech approach to patch management.

What Is a CMDB (Configuration Management Database) & How Do They Work?

3rd Aug 2022

A technical view on the importance of CMDB for IT Asset Management. Covers the basics and highlights applications that are relevant for the modern IT teams.

Agent and Agentless IT Asset Monitoring, What's the Difference?

28th Feb 2023

Useful comparison between Agent and Agentless IT Discovery Options. Relevant for IT Analysts, Network Engineers and IT Managers.

Why the Best IT Teams and Enterprises Use SAM Tools

27th Feb 2017

Know the top 5 reasons why the best IT teams use SAM Solutions.

How SaaS Has Changed How IT Executives Get Things Done

1st Mar 2023

A contemporary view of how SaaS and BOYD have influenced ITSM and ITAM functions of modern IT Team.

What Is IT Asset Discovery & Why It’s Essential For Your Business

29th Jun 2022

Safeguard your assets, know why asset discovery matters – an insightful guide for asset managers.

How SAM and Employee Training Can Effectively Combat a Cyber Attack

8th Mar 2016

Basic guide to secure your network against Cyber Attacks with Software Asset Management and Employee Training. Insightful and Practical Tips.


Popular Questions for Using Software Asset Management Tools


What Is the Best Software Asset Management Software?

Without a clear focus on your enterprise IT goals, finding a software asset management tool that is the right choice for your business can be difficult. For instance, you may decide to search the software marketplace for the term ‘best SAM software tools’. But, this term is subjective – what may be the best software asset management tool for one business may not necessarily be the best choice for your operations. When it comes to finding the right SAM software for you, you’ll want to consider factors such as:

  • Industry fit

  • Type of software (mobile, on-premise, or cloud)

  • Number of users and department

  • The metrics and license data you need to collect

  • The budget you have to spend

  • The assets that make up your IT estate (software, hardware, cloud services, etc.)

  • Vendor compatibility


What Is the Difference Between IT Asset Discovery and IT Inventory?

Once you have deployed your chosen software asset management solution, the first task for an IT asset manager is to begin identifying the business’s entire IT estate. This is achieved by utilising IT discovery and IT inventory, which are found in most typical SAM tools. But, although these two terms are often used interchangeably, they both refer to different stages of an IT asset management process.

IT Asset Discovery

The discovery stage of an IT asset management program refers to the task of located all connected devices on your network and ensuring there are no blind spots.

IT Asset Inventory

Inventory of your IT assets can only begin once the discovery process has been completed. Once complete, you can inventory each connected device and start collecting data regarding its configuration.


How Can SAM Software Mitigate the Threat of Shadow IT?

Shadow IT is a term used to describe the use of IT-related software and hardware that is used outside of and without the knowledge of a company’s IT department. Shadow IT can relate to all types of IT assets, including:

  • Hardware (Laptops, PCs, servers, mobiles, and IoT devices)

  • Software (Off-the-shelf packaged software)

  • Cloud Services (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS)

In recent years, shadow IT has become a significant issue due to the ease-of-access and consumerisation of cloud-based services. As well as posing a threat to the security of business and personal data, there are many risks involved with shadow IT. Including:

  • Data breaches

  • Lost data and information

  • Unexpected costs

  • Non-compliance fees

  • Loss of control and visibility

One of the most effective ways to reduce the possibility of shadow IT is to enlist the help of a software asset management tool. A key feature of SAM is its ability to allow organisations to track and monitor their IT inventory through asset discovery. This enables IT departments to manage all on-premise and cloud-based assets that are connected to the company’s network. Thus ensuring the risk of data breaches and unexpected costs do not impact the business.


How Can Software Asset Management Tools Be Used to Combat Cybersecurity Risks?

Without the right procedures and tools in place, there is an overwhelming risk of cybercrime impacting your business’s network security. Hackers actively seek weaknesses in a system and regularly attempt to break into a network’s back door. As a result, organisations will spend a fair chunk of their revenue on securing firewalls and malware protection tools to fend off the damage left by cybercriminals. In fact, by 2021, damages caused by cybercrime is estimated to reach a staggering $6 trillion (USD).

One major factor that can reduce this risk of criminal intrusion and enhance your network’s security, is the introduction of IT management tools. In particular, software asset management.

With typical SAM features such as asset discovery, software license management, life cycle management, and risk and compliance tracking, you’re able to reduce risks such as:

  • Employees using unapproved or unsupported software tools

  • Account logins having poor password protection

  • Removed accounts that are still active

  • Software that has failed to update

  • IT hardware that has been lost or stolen


How Can SAM Software Keep Businesses Compliant With the Terms and Conditions of a License Agreement?

Achieving software compliance refers to the correct use of software applications in a way that was agreed upon between the vendor and buyer when purchased. While also intending to meet government and professional standards.

A critical part of complying with the correct use of a software application is to ensure that the vendor’s terms and conditions are explained in a specific and digestible manner. Meaning there is no ambiguity as to what can and cannot be done with a particular product. Be sure to look out for typical terms and conditions found in a license agreement, such as:

  • Number of authorised devices/users

  • Fees and payment dates

  • Annual inspections

  • Verifications

  • Third-party users

  • Warranty information

As well as understanding the language of a license’s terms and conditions, it’s also important to take note of any penalties that you can incur for violating them. Typical penalties for not achieving software license compliance include litigation, voiding all licenses in use and future licenses, and paying heft unplanned fees.

But, this is where an effective SAM tool can help. With the use of a Software Asset Management system, you’re well on your way to keeping an organized and detailed database repository of license agreements that can be easily accessed. This helps to make sure you stay compliant while giving peace of mind if a software audit is actioned.


Why Is Software License Management Important for Businesses With Multiple Software Licenses?

Along with software license compliance, software license management is a subset covered in the umbrella of software asset management. It’s also one of the most important functions performed by an IT team.

Tracking the costs, compliance, and user access of just one or two software applications used in a business may be manageable. But, when it comes to managing multiple software programs, keeping track of license requirements can be overwhelming. That’s where effective Software Asset Management Software can help.

Whether directly installed on servers or accessed via a cloud service, all software used within a business will have a license attached to it. This means there are conditions to meet and compliance to uphold. It’s also important to remember that not all licenses will be the same. License types include:

  • Per-user

  • Per-device

  • Subscription

  • Network

  • Appliance

  • Client-server

  • Perpetual

No matter what type of licenses you have, proper management of all software is critical. Without it, businesses face risks such as litigation and hefty fines. With software license management, though, the benefits are vast. You’re able to:

  • Increase cybersecurity

  • Stay compliant

  • Optimise employee usage

  • Reduce costs of underused software

  • Centralise and track purchases

  • Keep on top of vendor policies

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