Before you buy that SAM tool…

Before you buy that SAM tool

Five things to consider first

Matt Fisher, Chief Commercial Officer, Livingstone Tech

Twelve months ago, my colleague Hugh Skingley worked with the good folks over at ITAM Review to highlight “15 hidden costs” that should make SAM and ITAM managers wary before diving into the deep end with a SAM tool. Many, if not all, of the 15 points raised by Hugh are still very relevant today. But times change and technology moves on, so what are the key challenges facing SAM and ITAM managers in 2019?

I’d say the hidden costs identified previously are still an important part of the story. But I’d also encourage in-house SAM and ITAM teams to consider a few other factors:

1. Blind leading the blind: Buying a tool without first understanding the desired outcome

A perennial issue in the SAM industry is organizations and stakeholders deciding it’s “time to do SAM” (maybe in reaction to a software audit or cost-reduction exercise) without really identifying or aligning the program with the organization’s primary business goals. Different tools on the market have different strengths and it is vital to align those strengths with your needs today and tomorrow (although possibly not three-to-five years’ time, technology changes might mean the tool you buy today is redundant in less time than that).

Working with an analyst firm like Gartner or an independent SAM specialist like Livingstone can help you scope the SAM program to ensure that goals are aligned with business priorities, which means that wins will drive greater buy-in from executives, leading to longer-term support for the maturing SAM program. This process (which doesn’t need to be long or arduous) will also help you decide if and when to invest in a SAM tool, what you will really use it for and what are realistic expectations for what it will deliver.

2. A sledgehammer to crack a nut: Buying a tool for 20% of the functionality

Most advanced SAM platforms label themselves as ‘advanced’ for three reasons: 1. It sounds ‘advanced’ (and who wants to buy a ‘non-advanced’ SAM platform?!), 2. It reflects that they do much more than the basics (often at an additional cost, but it’s there nonetheless) and 3. It enables them to charge a premium. The problem is that only a very small percentage of SAM tools users actually use anything like the full capability of the platform they’ve bought.

In many cases, SAM tools are employed as little more than glorified inventory platforms, thanks to the inherent complexities involved with entering and managing entitlements (let alone taking advantage of ‘advanced’ capabilities like workflow automation or integrating with third party apps), or calculating ‘optimized’ software use.

You wouldn’t pay Audi prices when all you need is a little city car, so why overpay for a solution that is slow to implement, complicated to use and will ultimately have a high level of redundant functionality?

3. A vanity purchase: Buying the tool the market tells you is ‘best’, not the one you need.

Speaking of Audis. I have one. I don’t need it, but I wanted it and I paid for it with my own money. In essence, it’s a car that gets me from A to B. Yet I paid nearly $25,000 over the price of the base model car for a more powerful engine, a sunroof, clever LED matrix lights, a limited slip rear differential, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a nicer sound system. You get the idea.

Did I need a bigger, more powerful engine? Probably not, but I like to use the power often, so for me it was worth it. The sunroof? Well, that stays shut 95% of the time (I live in the UK), so it probably wasn’t worth the extra $1,500 cost. Likewise, I don’t do track days or drive like a hooligan, so the $2,000 on the sports differential was probably a bit excessive. The matrix lights? They’re super clever – but I only use them occasionally (and then they seem to annoy other drivers) so probably another $1,000 I could have saved. So that’s at least $4,500 I spent on stuff that I use only very rarely.

When you’re paying not $50,000 on a car, but upwards of $200,000 on a SAM tool, can you afford to spend the organization’s money on ‘optional extras’ (even if they’re not technically ‘optional’) that you will use at best only rarely?

We’re always naturally inclined to want the ‘best’ of everything, but sometimes we should think about what’s best for the organization and what’s the best use of available budgets.

4. Reduce, reuse & recycle: What technologies are already in place that can serve a purpose?

Most sizeable organizations already have some form of ITAM or inventory tools in place, whether that’s Microsoft SCCM, ServiceNow or dedicated tools for different environments (larger organizations typically have more than one inventory source for their desktop and datacenter estates). The SAM tools vendors are very good at convincing organizations that these tools are old and creaky, have bad software recognition or platform coverage and thus need ripping out and replacing with their shiny new inventory modules.

This comes with inherent challenges, including additional cost, change control headaches, convincing the datacenter guys to let you near their servers and overcoming the common issues that arise when trying to get the client agents talking back to the inventory server.

Before you throw away your old inventory tools, check that they can’t still be useful to your evolving SAM, ITAM and security program needs. Services like Inventory Cleanse from Livingstone offer a low-cost low-friction way to collect raw inventory data from multiple inventory sources, cleanse and normalize it and then present it back in a meaningful and actionable format. New data without deploying new inventory tools.

5. “Who’s gonna fly it kid? You?”: A tool is only a tool without a skilled pilot

There is a widely-acknowledged global shortage in SAM skills. To compound this, there is more than one ‘SAM skill’. To call yourself a skilled SAM practitioner you might be super-hot on building effective SAM processes, you might know how to configure and administer tools, you might be a Microsoft or Oracle licensing guru or you might know the intricate ins and outs of SAP Indirect Access rules. It’s unlikely, however, that you’re all of the above (if you are, congratulations, you must be popular!).

Most SAM tools make collecting basic inventory relatively ‘easy’ (see caveats above). Some of those ‘advanced’ platforms will boast automated reconciliation of the software discovered against the licenses entered (for some vendors, anyway). In reality, however, the intricacies of managing a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, an Oracle Unlimited License Agreement or IBM Processor Value Units still means doing a lot of manual work, either in or out of the SAM tool. That’s okay if you know exactly what you’re doing. If not, it can be a recipe for frustration and risk.

Joining the dots back to our first point on understanding the desired business outcomes, scoping the SAM program doesn’t just mean deciding on the tool that best meets your technical requirements, it also means putting in place the right team to deliver on those goals. That might need IBM, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft or Microfocus specialists. And you’re highly unlikely to have all that expertise on staff.

The key thing is not to be fooled by the SAM tools vendors into thinking the solution will fully automate the process of calculating an effective or optimized license position. They just don’t. If you have the skills to fill the gaps in the tool’s capability, all good. If you don’t, you either need to change the desired outcome or bring in the skills to meet the original goals.

Destined to be disappointed?

To quote Christy Petty at Gartner: “Through 2020, only 25% of enterprises will be satisfied that their SAM tool purchases align well with pre-purchase expectations of value”.

Clearly it takes two to tango and the blame for failing to meet expectations can’t be placed solely on the SAM tools vendors. But it does highlight how important it is to have the right expectations, to choose the right tool at the right time and to be happy that you’re getting value for your money.

Or we can return one final time to the first point about desire business outcomes above. Forget the preoccupation with buying a SAM tool and instead consider how best to meet your goals. If you want to optimize your position (or minimize your risk) on a particular vendor, will a tool do that? If you want to prepare your datacenter or part of your application estate for migration to the cloud, will a tool do that? Or if you want to rationalize your software portfolio and eliminate so-called ‘shadow IT’, will a tool do that?

Before you select a SAM tool, why not download our new free Book on choosing the right type of partner for SAM success?