Interacting software systems are similar to a biological ecosystem.
Software systems within an ecosystem rely on one another and affect the overall health and stability of the business. These systems grow organically over time, as additional needs are identified that cannot be met by current applications. Unless controlled in some manner, these ecosystems will become redundant, expensive and ultimately too fragile to modify.
Software asset management provides an ongoing method for a company to maintain the health of this ecosystem. There are three primary aspects to SAM: review, reconciliation and re-engineering.
Step 1: Review
Establish a full inventory of all deployed software (it’s also smart to create a SAM team to oversee the process).
In theory, it’s possible to collect this information manually from end-user computers and servers, but in practice it’s typically done through the use of an automated SAM tool.
A small organization with less than a dozen controlled software programs will not need as sophisticated a management and oversight tool as a Fortune 500 company. In many cases, it will be necessary to run multiple scans to ensure that all systems are captured in the initial baseline. It is good practice to establish a recurring process to periodically scan the entire network and update the software asset inventory.
For each application discovered, determine what features the software offers to the organization and assign an owner. This is a key step in the review process because the system owner will be the primary contact point for scheduling future software updates, fixes and replacements.
Step 2: Reconcile
Next, each system is assessed for its role in a given operational ecosystem, which is noted in the inventory. In general, this is the procedure that most organizations follow to determine a system’s proper category:
- Define the role of each application in the company’s operations.
- Assign the software to a management group (ecosystem) based on core system functionality.
- Assign strategic values — critical, essential, important, minor, unnecessary.
- Define an ecosystem manager, who will be responsible for the oversight, research and acquisition of a specific ecosystem application suite.
Based on this assessment, assets can be managed by those most familiar with each application’s function as well as licensing and acquisition needs.
Step 3: Re-Engineer
Software assets have a defined lifespan: They are researched, acquired, utilized, updated and retired.
It’s the SAM team’s responsibility to manage these stages for software assets from the moment a request is made, through purchasing and deployment, maintenance and, finally, removal from service. Each step of the process is supported by the SAM inventory, to reduce duplication and to identify applications no longer meeting the business’s needs.
The SAM team must ensure that all applications are properly upgraded within the software makers’ specified support timeframes. Many application providers release updates, fixes, patches and other forms of software maintenance to provide users with an improved system experience.
The team should work with each ecosystem manager and application owner to determine a retirement or replacement plan for obsolete software. Retirements often affect other systems through some form of dependency (by either data or system function), so they must be managed carefully through a well-designed enterprise integration strategy.
To learn more about SAM, read the CDW whitepaper "Software Asset Management: Practices for Success" from which this article is excerpted from.