Uncle SAM wants you

Despite a high level of distrust IT managers display towards software audits, especially when the request comes from Microsoft, more than 800 Australian customers have participated in the company's Software Asset Management (SAM) program since it was launched in 2003.

Each year, Microsoft approaches thousands of corporate customers it suspects may not be licensed properly, based on the data mining of its volume-purchasing history records, according to Juan Fernando Rivera, Microsoft's director of worldwide asset management.

Although Microsoft claims licence compliance isn't the driving factor, the software giant has allocated significant resources in recent years persuading customers to participate in the SAM program.

Under SAM, Microsoft pays for its consulting partners to educate customers on the merits of asset management, help take inventory of installed software, compare it with licence documentation and make recommendations on policies and procedures.

In the end, customers get a chance to pay for unlicensed software or "fess up" without penalty.

Rivera says Microsoft wasn't looking for a specific ROI when it started the SAM program.

"Our main driver is customer and partner experience; it's not about selling," he said, adding that customers are not forced to accept recommendations made by partners or Microsoft and over-licensed customers may even be advised to downgrade.

"It's not about squeezing the customer and trying to get as much money as possible from them; it's about the benefits to the customer." But the bottom line is that Microsoft's SAM investments have paid off handsomely. In some countries, the company gains $40 for each dollar spent on the program.

And while a number of customers contacted by Computerworld said SAM participation has been a positive experience by improving inventory and making them more compliant, they still felt threatened when initial contact was made.

No matter how much Microsoft insists its SAM reviews are not audits, SunWest Management CIO Milton Bliss, said that's how customers perceive them.

This is partly due to heavy-handed licensing tactics Microsoft has used in the past.

One way to simplify licensing is an Enterprise Agreement (EA) as it can cover all desktop PCs, each running a standard set of Microsoft software so there's no need to figure out who's running what. Companies can fess up once a year based on PC count.

While this can benefit EA holders, Gartner analyst Alvin Park warns it opens the door to high-pressure sales tactics. Park said clients have complained for years about Microsoft sales representatives mentioning potential licence-compliance problems and then saying that "an EA will make that go away".

Whether Microsoft intended or not, Park said, some clients felt they were being threatened with an audit.

There are now seven Microsoft partners in Australia that have achieved SAM competency; Microsoft supports free SAM seminars for customers as well as free audit tools and an ROI calculator.

Have you participated in the SAM program? Tell us about your experience by e-mailing sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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