Unused, dust-gathering software is a symptom of poor IT management
Take control of software sprawl at your agency or deparment
Four years ago in 2007, the Lee County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office found itself in hot water. A local news outlet uncovered and reported the fact that the organization had purchased computer forensics software in 2007 at a cost of more than $704,000 and never used it. Adding in the yearly software maintenance of $100,000, Lee County had spent almost $1 million for software that had become shelfware. The public’s outcry is understandable.
Still Lee County’s experience is not unique, say experts. A study co-sponsored by the International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers found that IT managers spend more than $15.3 billion on software that will never be used. Another survey conducted in March 2011 by independent research company Opinion Matters found that more than half – 52 percent – of IT professionals still use spreadsheets to manage software licenses. Even more frightening, according to another survey by Ernst & Young: Only 20 percent of all companies have a formal software management and tracking program in place.
These conditions have led to software sprawl, with software being installed and never used or sitting idly on a shelf collecting dust. And just as significant, says Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, is the “mad dash” toward virtualization that is contributing to a rapid proliferation of virtual machines that are commissioned and either never used or never decommissioned once their existence is no longer necessary.
“It’s become so easy to spin up a virtual machine that we’re seeing a problem with virtual machine sprawl, too,” he says. “Organizations have numerous virtual machines that are just sitting there abandoned, which means you’re paying for CPUs and the storage required to host them.”
What’s behind the sprawl?
The reasons behind this unfettered growth vary from organization to organization, but the main culprit is, as the Ernst & Young survey found, the lack of a formalized software management program. “It’s a historical and political problem, says Claude Baudoin, a senior consultant at Cutter Consortium, a research and consulting firm. “There’s no knowledge management about who uses what, what they are using it for, and how successful they are with the application.”
The problem also stems from bundling. Some software vendors charge almost as much or more for a single application than they do for multiple applications bundled together, says Dan Kusnetzky, distinguished analyst and founder of the Kusnetzky Group LLC. “It’s often cheaper to buy the whole suite up front, but that makes it more costly to use because it all needs to be maintained.”
The best way to mitigate and eliminate sprawl is to implement an application portfolio management program or a configuration management database (CMDB) and couple either one with an internal service catalog much like the one found at Apps.gov. The management products help you see what you have, while the service catalog gives users constant, easy access to a list of approved, supported, and installed software, which can eliminate redundancies.
“When you’ve got a software management program you can look at what you have in a central repository, track licenses, and see where your different applications reside,” says Kusnetzky. It may also let virtual machine users lower the number of software licenses they need, he says. “You can use it to show that although you have 300 people in a department, only 12 licenses are in use at any given time.” The caveat, says Kusnetsky, is that some vendors, for instance, require you to buy a license for every machine – virtual or not.
On the service catalog side, there are a number of steps that IT should take when designing its offering. First and foremost, says Baudoin, the service catalog has to include more than just enterprise applications. “It should also contain approved personal productivity software,” he says. All of the applications should be easily downloadable. In the case of cloud-based applications, users should be guaranteed a quick turn-around for new accounts and user names.
Once it is in place alongside the CMDB or portfolio management product, IT managers can run discovery to find similar programs that can be pared down. “When you can scan the network and see the competing products you have, you can encourage people to migrate to the official version of whatever program you’ve selected for the company,” says Baudoin. “It’s not easy, and doesn’t succeed 100 percent of the time, but if you tell people there’s a reason for doing so, you’re going to get some cooperation and going forward you can try to control any additions to your software catalog.”