Software usage tools

* Getting wise about your IT assets and how best to manage them can save you money

Your IT budget is tight and getting tighter all the time. You’re being asked to do more with less. Your big fear is that some unforeseen expense will turn up to blow the budget and earn the wrath of the CFO.

What if I told you there is an easy way to recover some of the money you've allocated to spend on assets such as hardware and software? Could you use an extra $100,000 back in your budget? What about $500,000? A million?

No, you don’t have to lay off the whole department and outsource all the jobs overseas. But you do have to get wise about your IT assets and learn to manage them better. I’m talking about asset management tools that help you discover where you might be overspending by analyzing the use of your hardware and software assets.

Many IT people hear the phrase “asset management” and think of tools and technologies for remotely administering computer settings and software. Financial people, on the other hand, define “asset management” as finding ways to control costs and manage software licenses and other contracts. Actually, it’s both. Today we’ll look at one small area of asset management: software usage metering.

The cost of software easily doubles or triples the cost of deploying PCs for your business users. It could be even more, depending on the applications your people use. But are they really using the software? Chances are you're paying for software licenses (and the associated maintenance and support agreements) that you don’t need. You can save big bucks if you just hone in on software that isn’t even used. Gartner says that enterprises that implement software usage tools can yield a savings of 5% the first year, and 2% to 3% the second and third years on the total IT software budget.

A software metering package allows you to collect data pertaining to the usage patterns of the software employees have on their PCs. One such product is Command Center Survey (“Survey”) from Scalable Software. Survey can identify any executable software on a machine, even if it’s a homegrown application. You can look at the application usage by the day, quarter or year, in the event that some software packages are only required periodically or at peak times, like when financial statements are prepared.

Survey can show you when it’s appropriate to replace full-blown software applications with viewer versions. Does every employee need a full copy of Visio, or Adobe Acrobat, or can they simply use a viewer to look at documents from colleagues? Survey can help you prove that software is not being used for its intent (for example, to create a document versus simply viewing a document), which helps in negotiations to reduce maintenance agreements. For instance, Avis Budget Group eliminated unused licenses discovered through Survey and saved over 56% on annual maintenance and support agreements.

Express Metrix offers a similar software metering tool called Express Meter. This product is known for its Express Software Identification Database (ESID), which helps to quickly identify the applications installed and used in your enterprise. The ESID includes information about thousands of commercial applications and supporting files from over 2,500 vendors. In fact, ESID is so robust that companies like BMC and Tivoli license the ESID for use in their own management products.

Speaking of BMC, this company offers its own product for usage metering. What was once known as Marimba is now called BMC Software Usage, and this product fits into a much larger suite of configuration and asset management tools from BMC. Like the other two products I’ve mentioned, BMC Software Usage can tell you what’s being used, what isn’t, and where you are ripe for cost recovery.

All of these usage tools can help you identify and lock out rogue software applications – software that you prefer not be used within your enterprise. For example, Kazaa. And even for legitimate software, you can uninstall software if the usage reports show that it really isn’t used, helping to simplify your configurations and lower your maintenance and support costs.

Both Scalable Software and Express Metrix offer free trials of their software. Check out the offers on their Web sites and see what kind of cash you can pull back into your IT budget.

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