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SAM – What can be automated & what needs to stay manual?

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Here at the ITAM Review we are always being asked about how organisations can make their ITAM function more proactive and efficient. One of the arguments and suggestions for improving a SAM function is to start automating certain processes to take the strain off the ITAM team, allowing them to focus their attentions elsewhere.

We have a pretty good idea of what can be automated and what functions still need to be manual. This is through trial and error, research and also our own personal experiences. We aim to give you an idea of what functions you could possibly automate within your SAM estate.

 Key tasks that can be automated

  1. Software recycling process (install and removal)
  2. Software deployment process (including patching and updates)
  3. Software removal
  4. Licensing or software reports
  5. Compliance management
  6. Software request process
  7. Software approval process

There are a number of solutions currently on the market that will help an organisation to automate key tasks that take up a lot of an ITAM professional’s time. The three processes listed are time consuming, but vital when an organisation wants to have a mature and successful ITAM estate. The likes of SCCM can help with the deployment and removal of software, and ITAM tools can also help with the automatic uninstall of unused software based on the parameters set by the organisation, such as ‘unused for 30 days, therefore removal is required’.

Reports can be created and automated through the use of SCCM or specialist SAM tools. They can range from anything from the likes of software usage to software compliancy or reports on usage for certain vendors. Reports can be automated and then distributed to users at any time of day and any day of the week. For example, when I was an end-user I created a number of local compliancy and usage reports for the local IT Managers. These were then sent out once a month or once a week, depending on their preference. This saved me an awful lot of time in compiling the reports manually and then sending them out via my own email account.

There are also a number of SAM tools that can take over the overall control of software compliancy. What we mean by this is that they can highlight where the risks are and where there may be issues of non-compliancy. They can provide the user with alerts or notifications for any new breaches of compliancy, thus reducing the levels of guidance required from a manual person. The user still needs to monitor the compliancy though, as there is currently no system in place that can ensure that licenses are optimized or being use by the correct users.

What needs to stay manual? 

There are a number of processes that need to stay manual:

  1. Software license management
  2. Software license data entry
  3. Internal audits
  4. Contract management
  5. Risk Management

The overall management of software assets and licenses still needs to be a manual process. SAM tools can provide guidance and support in managing software assets, but we believe the overall management should still be with the SAM professional. Machines can make mistakes, so if an organisation leaves this to a machine without regular governance then they could have a nasty surprise when they do review their licensing position.

Some SAM tools can facilitate ‘bulk’ uploads of software licenses, but the actual process of adding software licenses and defining license types still needs to be manual. Systems cannot define different license types at this stage, so any adding of software licenses will need to be done via a SAM professional.

Internal audits are still also a manual task. SAM tools currently do not have the ability to define proper usage of software. They can remove software and install software based on parameters set, but they do not question a users needs to requirements for having the software installed. Internal audits still need to be conducted by the SAM team, with the support of the SAM tool to provide the data required to challenge users based on installations or usage stats.

Finally, contract and risk management is a process that needs to be conducted by the SAM team. Technology can advise you when a contract or maintenance is up for renewal or due to expire, but the actual contract negotiation is up to a SAM professional. Also, assessing and addressing risks within the SAM estate also needs to be done via the SAM team. Again, SAM tools can help highlight the risks and some tools allow you to tailor the various risks, but the SAM professional needs to make a conscious decision and prioritise risk, something technology currently cannot do.

Why?

 There are a number of reasons that some processes need to be kept manual:

  1. There may not be the systems available for automation
  2. Processes like license entry or contract entry needs to be checked by a human to ensure accuracy
  3. Leaving it automated can result in bad data
  4. Automated tools need help with making logical decisions. This can only be done manually by humans
  5. SAM users need to keep up-to-date with their environment. Leaving everything automated can leave them out of touch.

There is currently no SAM silver bullet tool. They cannot do everything. SAM professionals still need to manage their SAM estate and manage day-to-day processes to ensure that compliancy is maintained and to ensure that software all users and departments use licenses effectively and efficiently.

Importing licenses or contracts can be considered a semi-automated task. The majority bulk upload can be automated, but the data needs to be checked by a user for accuracy and to ensure the SAM tool has understood and allocated the licenses correctly. Based on experience, some tools can become unreliable when important data such as licenses or contract information. A simple error by either user or tool could result in inaccurate compliancy figures

Tools also cannot make logical decisions based on data. Automating certain processes can result negative and unauthorized actions. SAM professionals need to assess and analyse the data before making any decision based on the data a SAM tool provides them with. Technology does not have the same rational thinking, as a human, so manual interaction is still required.

Finally, SAM professionals need to be kept up-to-date with their SAM estate to ensure they are kept fully updated on the needs, requirements and current compliancy state. This helps the SAM team have a transparent view of their estate and helps them to make informed decisions that help benefit the usage and spend on software assets and also helps benefit the organisation as a whole. 

Conclusion

As you can see there are a number of functions that can be automated allowing a SAM function to be more efficient and effective. There are still a number of vital elements that need to remain manual, or semi manual simply because sometimes a human is better than a computer, and some systems may be unreliable.

It can also depend on the organisations environment and resources when establishing what can be automated. A smaller organisation with a limited budget may simply need to keep certain processes manual because senior management will not provide the technology or resources to make them automated.

What processes do you believe should be automated and what should stay manual? Have your say and get in touch with us!

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About David Foxen

David Foxen is a Software Asset Management expert and enthusiast. He had a vast experience of successfully implementing SAM, SAM tools and also made huge cost savings. A member of the ISO Standards WG21, David is a massive ITAM geek, so uses any opportunity to talk about the subject to who-ever will listen. He believes that the industry needs to share its knowledge and success stories to help the SAM industry mature and become more effective. Always willing to help, his primary goal is to make a difference to organisations and the SAM industry so everyone will know how epic SAM is!

4 Comments

  1. Ian says:

    Hi David

    Whilst I agree that many processes can be automated, I have a bit of an issue with full automation of report generation. Given the complexities of software recognition, licensing rules and such, reports from tools are susceptible to errors. Even the best tools in the market struggle to determine some software installations. There is always a need for manual intervention and QA at every stage to ensure accuracy and completeness

  2. Jason Keogh says:

    Hi David, you are correct in that license details today must be manually entered. Looking forwards, the ISO standard 19770-3, which will be published relatively soon, will allow for automated import of details on rights, limitations, entitlement, etc. relating to licensing. Watch this space…

  3. Greg Cagle says:

    I’m alarmed by one item..

    There are a number of processes that need to stay manual: * Software license data entry

    I have vetted a lot of SAM vendors over the last 30 days, and most if not all claim to have import methods that are highly automated, at least as long as the data coming in is clean or at least we can tell the wizard what questionable columns contain.

    Even better, the top two claim to have back-end B2B connectors to top resellers, allowing us to keep licensing data evergreen through automated processes.

    The above two items were key criteria we used to whittle down the competitors. If you are saying it’s not possible, I am highly concerned with their claims.

    This being a very recent article, I know it’s not a matter of timing.

  4. David Foxen says:

    Hi Greg, thank you for your comments.
    However, adding software licenses into a SAM tool should stay manual. Sure, a number of SAM Tool vendors can automate the import of Microsoft licenses and other license types straight from MSDN reports etc; however experience shows that these can be inaccurate. As having the right entitlement data is SO important in SAM, it is better for a SAM or licensing expert to imput the license details themselves in order to provide an accurate ELP.

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