The ITAM Review

News, reviews and resources for worldwide ITAM, SAM and Licensing professionals.

Managing Software as an Asset


This is a chapter from a book entitled “Software Asset Management (SAM) ~ the first ninety days“. I plan to publish each chapter online before publishing the whole book as a low cost ebook or paperback. I welcome your feedback and criticism along the way. Please either leave a comment on the individual chapters or get in touch. A summary of all chapters can be found here.


This chapter looks at how Asset Management principles can be applied to managing software. First of all it is useful to explore some IT Asset Management definitions and explain our focus on SAM.

What is IT Asset Management?

In the previous chapter we explored the concept of ‘An Asset’ – something of value that the company owns which has associated benefits and risks.

‘IT Assets’ are things of value owned or managed by IT.

These IT Assets may be software, hardware, systems or services. It follows that IT Asset Management (ITAM) is the practice of managing these IT Assets throughout their life in the business for maximum value and minimal risk.

Definitions and Overlap

ITAMThe diagram (right) shows how ITAM, SAM and HAM intersect.

  • IT Asset Management (ITAM)
  • Software Asset Management (SAM)
  • Hardware Asset Management (HAM)

As we can see in the diagram SAM and HAM are subcomponent parts of the broader discipline of ITAM.

The terms SAM and ITAM tend to be used interchangeably in the industry – they are not discreet disciplines but have significant overlap and dependencies.

The key dependency between managing hardware and software is the platform. The amount of money paid for software can vary dramatically based on the hardware used to run it. It could be firmware on a switch, the number of processors on a server or the operating system of a desktop.

Managing hardware and software are inextricably linked. For example if you want to manage your Windows operating system estate you need to know how many hardware devices you own, or if you want to manage processor based server licensing metrics you need to know the hardware configuration of the server, and so on.

Similarly job titles are usually split between hardware and software. A Software Asset Manager and Hardware Asset Manager might report to the IT Asset Manager.

Implementing a good SAM practice will undoubtedly have positive repercussions on the management of other assets but will fall short of full ITAM. For example the retirement and disposal of hardware is not typically a SAM function.

Why SAM gets the limelight

SAM tends to get more exposure and emphasis within the field of ITAM because:

  1. Software typically constitutes more IT budget than hardware and therefore represents more value to manage.
  2. Software is riskier (It is often complicated and intangible, It typically contains more contractual booby traps than hardware)
  3. The most compelling and costly business drivers in ITAM relate to software

Managing Intangible Things

Software can be complicated, expensive and ephemeral, unlike hardware that collects dust, takes up space and can serve as a doorstop or paperweight when not in use.

Managing intangible things is not an easy business – try explaining to a non-IT person in your business how your budget was spent on laptops compared to something intangible like Client Access Licenses (A licensing concept with no physical evidence – The right of user to access technology on a server) – one is significantly more easier to explain that the other.

Similarly, when a member of staff leaves the business and visits the IT department to return their IT equipment, their laptop and associated cables and gadgets are physical inventory left on the desk whereas the software they return is often digital, virtual, sometimes invisible and commonly more expensive than the hardware. On the basis that you can’t control what you don’t know exists – software represents significant risk and has potential for enormous waste if not managed correctly.

Management of hardware should not be overlooked. IT hardware in a business is usually inextricably linked to corporate data. So there is often a compelling driver to manage hardware effectively if only so that corporate data does not leak off the premises.

At the time of writing it has just been reported that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) in the UK has fined the NHS £200K for selling old hardware containing patient records on eBay. A third party offered to dispose of the equipment for free resulting in patient records showing up in the hands of eBay buyers. A chunky fine, damage to reputation and all round hassle because of the mismanagement of IT assets.

You will also find that the deeper we delve into the world of SAM, the more compelling it becomes to do HAM properly; however for the purposes of this book we shall focus on software.


This is a chapter from a book entitled “Software Asset Management (SAM) ~ the first ninety days“. I plan to publish each chapter online before publishing the whole book as a low cost ebook or paperback. I welcome your feedback and criticism along the way. Please either leave a comment on the individual chapters or get in touch. A summary of all chapters can be found here.


About Martin Thompson

Martin is owner and founder of The ITAM Review, an online resource for worldwide ITAM professionals. The ITAM Review is best known for its weekly newsletter of all the latest industry updates, LISA training platform, Excellence Awards and conferences in UK, USA and Australia.

Martin is also the founder of ITAM Forum, a not-for-profit trade body for the ITAM industry created to raise the profile of the profession and bring an organisational certification to market. On a voluntary basis Martin is a contributor to ISO WG21 which develops the ITAM International Standard ISO/IEC 19770.

He is also the author of the book "Practical ITAM - The essential guide for IT Asset Managers", a book that describes how to get started and make a difference in the field of IT Asset Management. In addition, Martin developed the PITAM training course and certification.

Prior to founding the ITAM Review in 2008 Martin worked for Centennial Software (Ivanti), Silicon Graphics, CA Technologies and Computer 2000 (Tech Data).

When not working, Martin likes to Ski, Hike, Motorbike and spend time with his young family.

Connect with Martin on LinkedIn.

One Comment

  1. Nelsie says:

    Another important challenge for a successful SAM program implementation is for the organization to go beyond simple compliance. It is not enough to achieve license compliance; the ultimate goal is to have an automated SAM tool that would optimize licensing and manage application usage, as well as provide automated provisioning and software metering. To know more, visit http://www.openit.com.

Leave a Comment

attend our virtual conference

29th September - 1st October

Hear from expert speakers on topics such as audit defence and licensing, cloud cost management, addressing SaaS & IaaS risk, and much more. Find out more.