Hardware and software licensing audits can be a major hassle for small to medium-size businesses. Just ask Will McManus, IT director for Dynamic Systems, a mechanical installations company based in Austin, Texas.
"We've been through two audits now, with two different manufacturers," he says. "And let me tell you, there were some real lessons learned."
Dynamic Systems employs about 2,000 people across 45 locations in the United States. Earlier in the decade, when Microsoft and AutoCAD issued software audits, McManus realized how unprepared their company was.
"We run pretty lean in IT, so we don't have a big staff," he says. "It's kind of like at home, when you don't clean out your closet very often. We're so busy keeping systems running, that even the really important back-end things, like counting licenses, unfortunately get lost in the shuffle."
McManus says that while the company was not intentionally violating licenses, the IT department did not adequately keep up with the growth of the company and the buying of additional software licenses in a timely matter. "AutoCAD asked us if employees were taking software home, and some were, and we didn't know," he says.
McManus says that experience gave him a learning experience in the area of software control learned through that process. "At that time it was a very manual process--we didn't even have a good list anywhere," he recalls. "We had to dig through filing cabinets to root through copies. It was a very onerous process, not just for IT but also for accounting and other departments. If we had just been more proactive in the beginning, we could have avoided the whole thing."
Since the two audits, McManus says DSI has implemented a written software policy that requires the signature of all employees. Most importantly, DSI began looking for a company that could offer IT asset management software for inventory and compliance purposes. They found their solution with Express Metrix, based in Seattle.
The company's Express Software Manager solution gave DSI the ability to see which computers carried which programs that required licenses, as well as letting them know which licenses weren't being used. "We can run a report and show how many systems take Microsoft Project, and if it's not being used we can take it and move it onto someone else's computer," he says. "If you can do that, you can easily justify the cost of that investment."
Although other companies, notably Tampa, Fla.-based Numara Software, Inc., offer IT asset management solutions for the midmarket space, McManus says his department had trouble finding a company that could offer flexibility and features at a reasonable cost. "There's tons of freeware stuff out there, but none of it comes close to the professionalism we need," he says. "If you look at Microsoft or Oracle, we frankly aren't going to pay that kind of money just to get the basic information that we need."
McManus says that's a real problem for midmarket companies. "There's a real need in the midmarket space for [IT asset management] solutions," he says. "I feel like it's a huge market that's missed." Like Goldilocks, many SMBs find solutions that are either too small or too big. "It's a challenging place to be," McManus says. "But not counting is no longer an option."