Jun 15 2016

4 Secrets for Eliminating Shelfware and Improving Software Inventories

In an era of flat or modest budget increases, organizations need a strategy to ensure they’re not paying for software they don’t need.

No organization wants to spend money on resources it doesn’t use, but even the best-run enterprises can fall into this trap. One common culprit is shelfware, software that’s bought and paid for but remains unused or severely underutilized.

One study found that a whopping 93 percent of organizations have some shelfware, while close to a third of enterprises waste at least 21 percent of their software spending on neglected software. Why? In many cases, organizations don’t know what software they own or how their users employ it.

“Productivity improvements and return on investment are often difficult to measure accurately, unless companies address these challenges by thoroughly inventorying the applications they license and determining usage patterns among employees and managers,” says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Fortunately, organizations have effective tools for performing assessments to keep shelfware under control. Comprehensive strategies start with four important considerations.

1. Understand the Root Causes of Shelfware

Users may not take advantage of the software at their disposal for a variety of reasons. In some cases, organizations purchase more licenses than they need as a way to ensure that they don’t fall out of compliance with licensing agreements in the event of an audit. But this is a wasteful and inefficient strategy that merely trades one problem (software audits) for another (shelfware).

Poor enterprise asset tracking can also lead to redundant and overprovisioned software, a problem many organizations experience with cloud software. Software-as-a-Service shelfware often occurs when organizational units purchase cloud software without the supervision or knowledge of IT staff, which has central oversight to ensure that new capabilities don’t overlap with existing resources. “IT needs to work more closely with the line of business, which is less proficient in IT asset management,” says Patricia Adams, IT asset management evangelist at Landesk.

Other organizations encounter shelfware problems with standard builds, a default selection of applications installed on newly commissioned computers. “The build may include 10 or 15 applications, but some individuals may use only nine of them,” Adams says. Shelfware also can become a problem when users depart an organization or otherwise stop using an application, but the organization continues to pay for the software license.

2. Take Advantage of Software Asset Management Tools

Software asset management solutions gather data on an organization’s deployment and usage of applications, giving IT managers a detailed inventory of what software titles are on hand and how they are being used. Leading solutions include Snow Software’s management and inventory suite, the Landesk IT Asset Management Suite and the Symantec Asset Management Suite.

Amy Konary, research vice president at IDC, predicts that almost half of organizations will have processes and tools in place to meter usage of major on-premises software by 2018. “Software customers will take matters into their own hands, using the information generated through software license optimization strategies to determine the best way to buy and manage their software,” she predicts. “In an environment where customers have had so little information in the past, the power of information on software usage can be incredibly impactful.”

3. End or Renegotiate Software Agreements

With usage data in hand, organizations can negotiate contracts at renewal time to bring the number of licenses they hold down to what they really need, industry experts say.

For example, organizations often fail to terminate licenses because they don’t have a formal workflow in place to make adjustments when a user leaves the enterprise or changes responsibilities. In some cases, licenses may simply be “reharvested,” moving to a central resource pool until they’re needed again.

4. Work Closely with Users to Promote Adoption

“Keeping open, honest lines of communication between employees and managers with purchasing oversight is the first order of business,” says King, the Pund-IT analyst. “All too often, the decision to buy specific applications or software packages occurs far upstream from the people who actually use them day to day.”

Asking users to share their opinions and assessments can help organizations determine the bang they're getting for the bucks they spend on software and services, he adds.

This also ensures that organizations don’t install a best-in-class application that goes unused simply because users haven’t been sufficiently trained or don’t understand its value. “Make sure that whatever you’re providing is just as easy and useful as what employees are already familiar with,” says Mike Fratto, principal analyst at Current Analysis.

Many software vendors also promote adoption. For example, Microsoft is introducing end-user awareness kits and end-user training for some fundamental usage scenarios associated with Office 365.

Microsoft FastTrack for Office 365 is a free onboarding benefit available to customers who purchase 50 seats or more of eligible Office 365 plans. Mott MacDonald, a global professional services organization, took advantage of this resource to encourage adoption of its new Yammer enterprise social network. The firm launched a “30 Days of Yammer” campaign, according to Simon Denton, Mott MacDonald’s business architect.

“The biggest obstacle in terms of change management is that taking the ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach no longer works,” Denton says. “We’re in a time now where we can’t just expect everyone to use what we provide. We’ve got to put more effort into not only launching a product, but also promoting, supporting and fostering its adoption for the long term. Employees want to understand how a new product is relevant to them and their work, and how it will help them help their clients.”

For more on how organizations can more efficiently use their software, read, "To Make the Most of Software Purchases, Companies Need to Track Adoption and Usage."

Axisadman/Wikimedia COmmons

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