“Why do we need to manage software assets when we use SaaS? We have nothing to install?” This question, or some derivative, is heard with increasing frequency among Scalable’s prospects and customers. It’s a fair question. It reflects, at once, a fundamental understanding of SaaS and a misunderstanding about the real benefits of Software Asset Management. (Of course it may also be a reflection of the capabilities first generation SAM tools).
There is no denying that SaaS eliminates some of the issues associated with managing one’s compliance with agreements. However, if you are thinking you no longer need to worry about the use of software licenses in excess of the metrics defined in the agreements then read on.
Why You Need to Manage Software Assets
The positive change for software asset management moving from a pre- to post-SaaS world is the software audit. SaaS eliminates the requirement for a forensic analysis of software use by an auditor commissioned by a software vendor. You’ll not be receiving those letters, which announce that in 30 days time an auditor will show up and expect unfettered access to your software inventory tools; in the world of SaaS the vendor knows exactly what you are consuming at all times.
Another key difference is SaaS is much easier to provision than traditional on-premise software. Notwithstanding the kind of ad-hoc sharing of installation files that typically leads to uncontrolled software proliferation, it is actually quite hard for a company to have on-premise software spread beneath the SAM radar. Change management, software deployment systems, policy management and other systems have evolved to alert companies to such situations as the license metrics for on-premise software are quite easier to monitor.
In SaaS implementations, an administrator can easily add users without any trace of the additional license consumption being visible outside of the SaaS environment itself. However, this simple case, which I am sure many of you will rightly say you can control by other means, is just the tip of the iceberg. We have seen license metrics for SaaS tools as diverse as: company division definitions in accounting systems; lead counts in marketing systems; customer logins in support portals; sub-function enablement; back-end database sizes and much more. Pretty much all of these metrics can be exceeded without any evidence appearing outside of the SaaS system, and in many cases without a customer employee explicitly enabling anything.
When coupled with the fact that many (but not all) SaaS environments do nothing to proactively alert you to the fact you have exceeded any limits, or stop you doing it, you have a recipe for breaching licensing agreements that far exceeds that of traditional on-premise software. However, the breach is a “soft” breach insofar as it is usually catered for within the terms of the agreements. SaaS vendors will helpfully provide language that details exactly what you will be paying in the event you do exceed the initial terms of the agreement. Needlessly to say these “penalties” are not far short of the kind of penalties customers find themselves on the end of in traditional on-premise software audits.
The net of this scenario is that Software Asset Management in the world of SaaS is less about being prepared for an audit, and more about ensuring and monitoring the consumption of the various license metrics for the SaaS tools in use. To monitor these metrics requires SaaS-environment specific technology as, other than simple user account counting, few seem to employ the same models; and certainly each SaaS implementation maintains such information in a unique way.
In summary rather than SaaS tools removing the need for Software Asset Management, they have actually made the whole discipline way more important in terms of cost-management and way more complex in terms of monitoring license consumption.