The status of SAM: the vision of Marcel van de Molen

SAM IT

Software is becoming increasingly important to organizations and therefore managing software is as well. How do organizations cope with this? And how is software asset management (SAM) perceived by people with different job roles and responsibilities? To map out where SAM stands in 2018, over the next few months professionals from the field will take turns discussing this topic. In this article: Marcel van de Molen, legal counsel with a specialization in IT. Before he started his own company, he worked as an in-house company lawyer at Oracle for more than twenty years.

Marcel what can you tell us about your role and your work?

I started out in the legal professionas a sollicitor, and later worked for 22 years at Oracle. Initially as a company lawyer and later as Head of Legal Affairs EMEA. In this role you are co-responsible for drawing up license conditions, but also for monitoring customers who did not comply with these conditions. Legal teams of software vendors are also involved in the follow-up of audits, if these work out negatively for the customer. And with negative results I mean that the audit team has shown that the customer has made excessive use of the licensed software. Among other things, I worked on solving those cases. Sometimes it could be solved with a sales visit and by having the customer purchase additional licenses, and sometimes companies choose to play hardball. This often depended on the amounts involved in the improper use: sometimes it involved millions. Then it often becomes a legal dispute about conditions and use, and that can go as far as court cases.

What makes this field so complex?

If users do not keep track of the applicable license terms of the software they use, in the long run they will surely end up with a discussion with the supplier. Compare it with a lease car where you also have to pay extra if you drive more kilometers than agreed. And you cannot swap it after just three years if you have a five-year contract. What makes it complex are primarily the conditions that differ between suppliers. And even if you buy the same product today as you purchased five years ago, the same conditions do not necessarily apply. In addition, many parties within an organization are involved. IT is responsible for the purchase, Finance has a role as it is a very important asset of the company, and Legal has another role in checking compliance with the conditions. Companies must organize themselves in such a way that they know how many and what kind of licenses they have for a software product and which conditions apply, and constantly map these against usage.

What is the development you have seen at Oracle customers in those 22 years?

The awareness of the importance and the complexity of SAM has grown. Large and medium-sized companies generally have it sorted nowadays. Often there are compliance teams or special teams appointed in Legal or IT. But there are still many companies that learn the hard way and do not bring their affairs in order until after an audit, which is often followed by an extremely unpleasant process with the software supplier.

 Has the arrival of SaaS had an effect on the field?

Yes, but in my opinion it’s mainly a negative effect. An all-you-can-eat licensing model – because that’s often what it’s all about – ensures that there is a lot less awareness from the user side, and that has an impact on the control, which is often omitted. When companies combine SaaS with infrastructure-as-a-service and also hardware-as-a-service, the overview is very easily lost. How do you check who installs what when you use various intermediaries and virtual servers and outsource everything? And how do you make sure that it all is according to the license conditions? The whole movement to the cloud is easy for the software vendor, while for the user it’s mainly unclear: it becomes extra complex, and after a while every fixed amount per period automatically becomes more expensive than a one-time license payment.

In addition, a software license is now much less tangible. Whereas in the past a company that employed 60 people with a desktop computer, bought sixty licenses and was covered; now these licenses are on a server, in the cloud or in an external computer center, but there is nobody in the workplace who ‘sees’ or is confronted with the server or the licenses. A new employee can make use of all the facilities on the existing systems, and hopefully there is someone in the background who keeps track of the consequences. That person in the background must have proper IT knowledge, since the definition of use or users will differ between vendors, and even a definition with the same vendor today can be  different than a week ago.

The extra complexity of cloud, service and subscription models ensures that more and more heated discussions will take place between the audit teams of the software supplier and the responsible IT, Finance and Legal teams on the customer side.

This article was also published on Computable.

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