Buyer Beware: How to select a SAM solution (part 2)

In part one of this topic, we looked at how organizations investing in SAM tools could take comfort from independent validations of technologies, such as the new KPMG SAM Tools Assessment. This kind of recognition can be a very effective way to reduce the number of potential solutions down to a manageable short-list.

But at some stage in the buying cycle you are going to need to test the solution and see how it matches to your individual requirements. How you construct and the conduct this test drive can have massive implications on your subsequent satisfaction with your chosen product.

It’s no secret that License Management isn’t easy. A good solution, like License Manager, will reduce administrative effort and will help either automate important licensing decisions or at least put the administrator in a position to make those decisions more quickly and with confidence.
What a license management technology will not do is automate 100% of the entire process. There simply is not a tool on the market capable of doing this; nor do I believe there ever will be.

However, some tools vendors will try to convince you otherwise, by blurring the lines between technology and service.
And this is the crux of why the trial or proof of concept (PoC) project is so critical. It has to reflect how you intend to use a license management solution in the real world.

When is a trial not a trial?

Handing over trial license management software to a SAM newbie is a bit like giving you or I the ‘keys’ to a jumbo jet. Yes, we might recognize the obvious controls like the throttles, yoke and rudder pedals, but as for all the other switches and knobs you may as well forget it. The same is true (albeit thankfully with a much lower risk to life or limb!) of license management solutions – the main tasks should be easy enough to grasp, but thanks to the complexity of vendors’ licensing schemes, there has to be a number of those switches and controls that might not be so easy to understand at first glance.

And so it’s hardly surprising that some license management tools vendors shield their prospective customers from exposure to the complexities and shortcomings of their admin consoles by offering what might be a termed a ‘managed PoC’, where essentially the vendor does all the work.
If your intention is to devolve all responsibility for license management to a third-party and purchase a fully-managed service, that’s great. You’ll get an excellent feeling for the vendor’s (or SAM partner’s) ability to deliver what you require.

But if your intention post-purchase is to self-administrate the chosen SAM tool, what benefit do you really gain from a managed PoC? Little or none. You’ve not seen what it actually takes to import license agreements, cleanse software inventories or reconcile the two data sources. Yes, it all looked very seamless when the vendor presented the reports to you at the end of the PoC, but exactly how much manual labor was involved in getting to those nice pretty graphs? To use another analogy, this kind of PoC is like taking a test drive in a new car, only to spend the entire journey on the back seat. Great if you’re planning to hire a chauffeur; useless if you plan to drive yourself.

Finding a better solution for PoCs

The challenge to both the end user organization and the vendor is that sometimes you need to do things quickly, and so having to configure servers, set time aside to have the vendor on-site etc. can be difficult.

But there is a potentially better way to do things. At License Dashboard, we like to conduct what we call a ‘Guided PoC’ – where the workload is shared between us and the prospective customer, more akin to how the solution would work post-purchase.

In a Guided PoC, organizations have the option of installing License Dashboard’s technology on-site (thus proving just how easy installation and configuration are), or taking advantage of our online evaluation servers (thus negating the need to find, allocate and configure servers).
Once the server environment is ready, a SAM specialist from License Dashboard will then work collaboratively with the organization to conduct the required steps: Discovery, data cleanse, license import and reconciliation. It’s a bit like flying that jumbo jet, but with a seasoned pilot in the seat next to you, guiding you on which buttons to press next or how to co-ordinate throttle and yoke inputs. It’s still you doing the flying (and thus gaining real-life experience), but with much less chance of crashing and burning!

Ultimately, this kind of PoC is more rewarding as the management reports now have more meaning and you understand the steps that went into achieving the final numbers on-screen.

Setting yourself up for success

The main consideration for constructing a PoC is that you get a realistic experience of the service or tool you are considering purchasing. If you plan to contract a SAM service, then those pretty graphs (or really, the critical information contained in those graphs) are what you need. If you plan to purchase a technology and administer it, you need to ensure you’ve gotten under the hood of the software and made an assessment of both a) whether the tool can meet your license management requirements out-of-the-box and b) how easy it was to achieve your goals with or without outside assistance.

Ultimately, the customer is King. If you are about to make a substantial investment in license management, you have both the right and responsibility to ensure you have an accurate expectation of what your chosen solution can deliver – and equally importantly, how it can deliver it – in the real world.

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Ben Eagling

Ben Eagling

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