Self-service application request systems, sometimes called AppStores or Software Catalogs, are becoming increasingly attractive thanks to their promise of simplifying the approval and deployment of software while meeting user demands for a more consumer-style experience in the workplace.
“Why can’t I choose apps at work in the same way as I can on my iPad?” is an increasingly familiar cry.
Yet, as readers of this site know all too well, the inherent complexities of software licences (further complicated by virtualization and cloud computing) results in any such proposition being greeted with well-founded suspicion.
Many enterprise software licences were not conceived with the app store model in mind, so any form of software deployment that takes an overly-simplistic view of licensing will rightly send shivers down the spines of SAM managers the world over. However, the AppStore should be an opportunity for SAM, rather than a threat.
If configured correctly and with licensing at its heart, it is a golden opportunity to enforce good SAM practices once and for all. It is our unexpected ally in the on-going battle between the wants of end users and the organisation’s licence compliance and optimisation needs.
As SAM/ITAM managers, it is our job to educate users on good licence management practice and to find ways of enforcing it throughout the organisation.
The Enterprise AppStore gives us this very opportunity. By building a SAM workflow right in the heart of the AppStore, we can not only enforce good practice, but do so in a way that is welcomed by users.
What does a SAM-powered AppStore look like?
The AppStore should be seen as the front-end of a complete SAM workflow – it is one cog in a much larger SAM machine. The workflow itself would call upon relevant stakeholders at the appropriate time during the request/procurement/deployment process. End users, line managers, SAM managers, procurement and deployment staff should all be plugged into the workflow and called upon when required.
The AppStore front end should be based on a sound and mature workflow for the management of software, with a technology platform capable of providing each stakeholder with a common console for playing their part in the process.
The AppStore itself should be a single online resource where end users can view a list of approved software applications that can be requested for deployment to their device(s). The portfolio available to them could be based on the organisation’s complete software library or filtered to only include applications relevant to their job role. The applications should ideally be populated from a sub-set of the applications discovered by the organisation’s inventory solution (supporting the notion of standardisation).
To be both manageable and to prevent end user confusion, the AppStore should ideally contain single versions of products and only those products that are regularly used across the organisation.
The AppStore should show the cost of software (this can either be the retail price or internal cost, which might also include management costs) to help users understand the financial implications of any requests they raise. Once a software request has been submitted, end users should be able to track the progress of their requests through the App Store interface.
Why Service Catalogs do not make good AppStores
Organisations that have already invested in an IT Service Management (ITSM) solution will naturally be tempted to employ that vendor’s Service Catalog to manage software requests. The danger with this approach is that most ITSM solutions do not include credible licence management modules – and without licence management at its core, any form of self-service for software application requests could actually create more risk than reward. Above all, the organisation must ensure that any deployments are correctly licensed before they hit the user’s device!
The SAM-powered AppStore Workflow
The AppStore kicks off a complete SAM procurement process that should incorporate all of the following elements:
- End users requiring new applications visit the AppStore, view available software and costs. Applications are selected and user details, device, cost centre etc. are captured automatically. Users can add extra information such as justification for software request, any project-related timescales etc.
- Completed requests are stored within the system (for future reference, case tracking etc.) and also routed to the appropriate line manager for sign-off. The line manager can view, approve or reject all requests from different users in the single console. Before approving requests, the manager can view current licence availability for the application in question.
- If the request is rejected the end user is notified.
- If the request is approved, it is sent to the SAM manager to determine how best to allocate licences.
- If licences are available, the platform will create a trigger to initiate the software deployment process – whether by notifying additional stakeholders in the workflow, or by creating an automated trigger into a deployment solution.
- If the request is approved but no licences are available, the SAM manager can either look to see if it is possible to action an inter-department / inter-business unit transfer of the required licence(s) or whether new licences need to be procured.
- If new licences are required, quote requests can be automatically sent to nominated suppliers
- Once licences have been procured / allocated against approved requests, deployment staff can be notified to fulfil the software deployment request
By automating the SAM process through an AppStore, SAM managers have a real opportunity to enforce a SAM workflow that not only works, but fits in with the demands of end users – the best way to ensure that the process is not rejected but actually used.
It puts SAM (and specifically, licence management) at the heart of the procurement process, eliminating over-spend and compliance risks once and for all. It aids software standardisation, educates users on the cost of the software they use, streamlines the approvals process and eliminates human error. These are all benefits that are worth pushing for.
It is now up to SAM/ITAM managers to persuade their organisation to put a SAM workflow into any AppStore they are considering. For this to be successful, they need to propose an entirely new definition of what an AppStore really is. An AppStore is not simply a new means for employees to deploy their own software – it is the end-user interface for a complete SAM workflow. This is a subtle but critical difference that all organisations should be given the opportunity to learn.