Taking Stock of Apps

Opinion: No matter which method you use, getting a grip on application usage will go a long way toward saving valuable resources and time.

Nearly 13 years ago—in one of the most comical, if not enlightening, vice presidential debates of all time—Ross Perots running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, uttered the immortal lines, "Who am I? Why am I here?"

In a similar state of confusion, IT staffers trying to manage the use and costs of applications within a company often may feel like asking, "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

When it comes right down to it, you probably dont have a really strong grasp on what your users are doing with the applications they have—or if they even use or need the applications at all. And the absence of this information may be costing you some serious money in needless software licenses and support costs.

Sure, most of you probably have an inventory database that lets you see who has what pieces of equipment. You might even have a list of what applications each user has. But are the users actually using the applications? And, if so, how often do they use them? Could the users get by with something less?

If you dont know the answers to these questions, you might want to figure out how to get them. According to one eWEEK reader with whom I recently spoke, the ability to gauge his users actual application needs and get a handle on the related licensing costs could save his organization hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

But getting at this information can be a lot more complex than simply asking what people are using. If someone leaves a company, should his or her replacement get everything the former employee had? What do you do in cases where a project calls for a user to have a specific application? Do you give it to the user and then take it away once the project is completed?

This isnt a new problem, by any stretch of the imagination. Managing software and licensing costs has been a goal for IT managers for many years now, but most of the proposed solutions for achieving this have come up short.

Running applications only on central servers was supposed to let companies serve up applications in a controlled manner, but I havent seen many network computers at companies lately.

But dont worry: Utility and on-demand computing will give us the information we need—or not. I wouldnt bet money either way.

More likely, as is the case with most business problems, the solution will be based on using a number of products and technologies to track application usage.

The reader I spoke with wants to eventually track actual use of all programs. He wants not only to know who has what applications but also when and how often the applications are being used. This would allow the reader to, for example, remove an application from a user if he or she hadnt used it for a predetermined period of time.

Where to turn for a solution such as this depends on the individual company. A large software management platform could probably address most of these needs, making it possible to deploy, track, patch and remove applications as needed. In most cases, however, there will be a considerable upfront cost for this kind of platform; if a company doesnt already have one, it may prove to be overkill.

Custom scripting could also work to a large degree—basically acting as company-provided spyware to monitor the use of applications on systems. However, this method lacks some of the granularity and control of the aforementioned management platform.

The most cost-effective method is the most low-tech, and the most susceptible to fraud and abuse: Ask. IT managers should question users about applications. What are you using? How often? What percentage of the products features are you using? Just as they do during initial setup requests, IT staffers could send out regular surveys, asking users about their software-usage habits.

No matter which method—or combination of methods—you choose, though, getting a grip on application usage will go a long way toward saving valuable resources and time.

Without this kind of information, your application infrastructure could end up in, well, to quote the admiral one more time, "gridlock."

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.


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