SAM tools: the power of a solid entitlement management process

When used for the right reasons and with the proper knowledge, SAM tools are without question a great investment. They help organizations to automate parts of their SAM business practice, offer more control over software asset spending, and more visibility on software compliance reporting. While in the first article of this series I covered the importance of understanding the real capabilities of SAM tools, so you can get the most out of a SAM tool investment, in this article I would like to detail the importance of solid software entitlement management and the different features you can use when uploading your entitlements into a SAM tool.

It all starts with your contracts

With or without a SAM tool in place, software entitlement management, also known as contract management, remains the first essential step in SAM business practices. But what makes it so important?

Software entitlement management and its associated processes allow organizations to have visibility on their software investments, software included rights, restrictions and limitations. In other words, the software contracts dictate the way one can install and use a piece of software, what type of information should be collected to determine the software usage and eventually how to set up and configure the SAM tool. It is therefore fundamental to have a complete understanding of your software entitlements before setting up your SAM tool.

Yet, to many organizations, whether they are small, medium or large, software entitlement management remains a business practice defined entirely by understatements: ‘I manage my support renewals and that is enough’, ‘I use this excel spreadsheet where I store product names, quantities and metrics, so I am in control’, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, reality is different. Lots of customers usually underestimate the complexity of identifying and analyzing the right data sources (proof of entitlements) that contribute to the creation of what I call a ‘software entitlements overview’. If you only keep track of the list of products, quantities and metrics, without understanding all the conditions, rights and limitations that govern them, the risk is that you may overuse certain products or may not use them in accordance with what is stipulated in your agreements, and in case of a SAM tool, the risk is to configure and manage it wrongly.

How to make sure you have a correct overview of your entitlements?

As mentioned, it’s not enough to keep track only of your software product names, quantities and metrics. Instead, you should have a clear understanding of all the conditions that govern your products. To succeed in this, there are two essential processes to be followed:

First, gather all your proof of entitlements (PoE) – whether they are ‘paper files’ such as invoices, POs, agreements and amendments or ‘license overviews’ downloaded from the publisher(s) licensing portals (e.g. VLSC), they all should be identified and gathered. This is by far the most challenging activity of software entitlement management. Most organizations don’t have a clear idea of where all these documents are being stored, and sometimes they don’t even know what type of documents they should search for or what online portals they need to access to download the data. If identifying the right proof of entitlements is a challenge for you, our series of articles on this topic, should help you understand how the top publishers define proof of entitlements.

Once gathered, all PoEs need to be processed and analyzed. The analysis process should not be a copy-paste activity of the product names and quantities from your contracts into an excel spreadsheet. To be able to understand what you are entitled to and under what conditions, you should always look at all software license related terms and conditions, such as general conditions, product conditions and usage conditions. Examples can be: what legal entities are entitled to make use of the software products, what usage rights (full use or restricted use) are granted within a software product, if and what specific products/components require separate licenses, and what are the included products and components that come with your purchased products. All these conditions will eventually contribute to the setup of your entitlements in the SAM tool. For instance, one big challenge during the entitlement configuration in the tool is the correct setup of the included or bundled products. If you don’t correctly visualize the included products in the tool, you take the chance to re-buy them.

Once the analysis of all conditions is done, you can complete your entitlement overview by grouping the entitlements that comply with the same set of conditions. For instance, if you have different purchases for the same product, you can add their quantity only if all the products have been acquired under the same conditions. Ignoring this step would expose you to compliance issues, as some conditions might be breached without knowing.

Now imagine you have to apply the processes above for 100 software publishers. To succeed, you need expertise, time, the right people and the right analysis tools. Not having this knowledge in-house is okay, as long as you work closely with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) that can support you during this challenging process, so that you don’t overlook important facts when interpreting software contracts.

Upload the entitlements into the SAM tool

Next, the resulting ‘software entitlement overview’ is used as a basis to populate the SAM tool of choice with contractual data. This means that your entitlements are uploaded and configured accordingly within the SAM tool. How does that work?

Most SAM tools offer different ways to perform the entitlement upload in the tool.

Metadata upload facilitates the automatic upload and it’s recommended to be used when setting up the SAM tool for the first time. What you have to do is populate the tool’s standard templates with entitlement data and upload everything at once into the tool. The template to be used for upload is well described and documented by the tool vendor and often requires you to comply with certain formatting rules (e.g. dates should be registered with dates strings). Ignoring the formatting requirements will lead to errors during the import process.

This great feature is a time saver when you deal with multiple software publishers. Let’s go back to the 100 software publishers scenario and imagine you will need to manually upload thousands of entitlement lines into the tool. Exactly! Such activity for such broad scope is not efficient. If you don’t have a clear understanding of how the tool performs the automatic uploads, you may spend lots of time fixing errors within the tool. It is therefore recommended to make sure you ‘know your tool’ before starting any type of activity within it.

Manual data upload – this feature allows you to manually register each entitlement into the tool. During the registration, certain mandatory information is required, such as license name, license quantity and license metric. The manual data upload is recommended to be used when you need to upload a small number of entitlements.

Publisher specific upload – this option allows you to upload license overviews as provided by the software publisher itself. For instance, some tools allow you to import the Microsoft License Statement (MLS) as is. Basically, the tool will read and interpret the information in the MLS and will automatically create Microsoft purchase/license records in the tool. However, as the MLS does not provide you a full picture of your Microsoft estate (e.g. OEMs are missing), it is recommended (also by the tool vendors) to complete your MLS view with a full proof of entitlement analysis. By doing this you will make sure you validate the purchases reported in the MLS against the original purchases as listed in your contracts.

During the entitlement upload or entitlement registration, different potential errors may happen. Some can be related to data formatting, while some others can be caused by the tool’s capability to interpret your data. For instance, some of your products or metrics are not part of the tool’s software recognition library, or some of them might not be defined by the tool in accordance with your contracts.

If you are interested to see how SAM tool’s potential errors can be overcome, stay close, as my next article will detail what can go wrong during the upload of your entitlements into the SAM tool, what can be done to overcome these challenges and what steps are required for a correct entitlement configuration in a SAM tool.

To summarize, the key to your SAM tool success starts with an exercise outside the tool: your software entitlement analysis. The goal of a solid entitlement analysis is to ensure that all the right terms and conditions, as listed in all different proof of entitlements, are considered for properly managing your software licenses and eventually to contribute to a correct SAM tool setup.

Ana is one of our project managers who helps customers to overcome their SAM challenges. Ana joined the SAM world in 2011 when she started working as a Technical Analyst within Oracle’s License Management Services (LMS) team and currently uses her diverse SAM experience to support customers during the implementation of our SAM Managed Service solution. Ana holds a master’s degree in Accounting, Audit and Information Systems Management from the Academy of Economic Studies of Bucharest.