Enterprise-wide software license management lags, GAO finds

Without executive direction from the federal CIO, agencies will have difficulty realizing cost savings through enterprise-wide software license management, says a new report.

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The Government Accountability Office says the federal government could do a better job of managing enterprise software licenses, but the federal CIO contends that GAO is overstating the problem.

Despite a general policy to license commodity IT software at an agency level, the GAO report found that few agencies have a strict regime for tracking their software licenses and making sure they are identifying opportunities to save money.

While the GAO couldn’t put a dollar figure on the potential for savings, some agencies have reported considerable cost avoidance from enterprise-wide licensing agreements with major software vendors. The Department of Homeland Security reported $181 million in cost avoidance from fiscal 2012 thanks to 10 enterprise-wide software licenses. NASA, the Veterans Affairs Department and the Department of State all reported savings in the millions thanks to renegotiated license agreements with vendors.

GAO wants all agencies to centralize management of software licenses, create an inventory of existing licenses, automate the inventory to ensure agencies are optimizing the licenses under their control, and use those metrics to guide future purchases. GAO also wants more training for IT acquisition personnel on how to buy more efficiently. And the agency would like to see some direct policy guidance from the Office of Management and Budget on this front.

"Until this gap in guidance is addressed, agencies will likely continue to lack the visibility into what needs to be managed, and be unable to take full advantage of OMB's SmartBuy and other tools to drive license efficiency and utilization. Therefore, we continue to believe that OMB should develop a directive that guides the agencies to ensure that they have appropriate policies," the report said.

Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel pushed back against GAO's conclusions in his reply comments, noting that OMB's 2003 SmartBuy guidance on software licensing set a specific and appropriate policy direction, and that the implementation of this policy is best handled at the agency level, where there is more visibility.

"Because of this requirement to better manage software, agencies now have the tools to identify when there is underutilization of software and are better able to recapture those underutilized licenses and deploy them to people who need them," VanRoekel wrote.

While most agencies concurred with GAO's recommendations, NASA noted that centralizing its software licensing database would require changes to existing large IT contacts and demand resources not currently allotted to the agency.

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