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Alan BainMar 7, 2024 11:30:00 PM4 min read

Unlocking the Maze: Navigating the Complexities of Software Licensing

Some years back, I found myself in the office of a client's Chief Information Officer (CIO), nestled deep within a state capital annex. The purpose? A kickoff meeting to defend against an Oracle license audit. Amidst discussions on data reporting, licensing, and contracts, a member of the team vented frustration, attributing their predicament to Oracle's complex licensing. In response, the Oracle Account Executive, with the calm authority of a seasoned parent, explained that licensing isn't as complicated as it seems, provided one grasps the terms and the vendor's approach. This straightforward perspective shed light on Oracle’s audit's context, their legal right to conduct it, and their awareness that compliance violations by my client had occurred.

As I anticipated his response, my thoughts drifted back to the end of my college days. It was during a sponsored trip, organized by my college to fulfill my final credits. Being a Mathematics major, the journey revolved around mathematical marvels: Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid, the Acropolis, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and my personal favorite, the Golden Ratio, which defines beauty and symmetry in our visible world. One afternoon, while exploring Cairo, I stumbled upon a bustling market nestled in the heart of the city. The market boasted an array of exotic foods, captivating artwork, and intriguing characters. However, its labyrinth of narrow streets, alleys, and ancient structures soon led me astray, leaving me disoriented and lost. Much like the venting staffer, frustration and anger welled up within me. In that moment, I yearned for the reassuring voice of a paternal figure, offering calm guidance to navigate my predicament. What would that voice have advised? Just as the Oracle representative counseled the CIO, it would have urged me to pause, assess my surroundings, and if necessary, seek assistance.

Take a moment to pause and reflect. Software licensing can appear daunting at first glance. You invest significant sums – hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars – in software governed by contracts laden with complex terms and conditions. These documents, filled with unfamiliar terminology like indemnification, perpetual, assignment, and liability, can seem like a labyrinth of confusion. To simplify matters, I hone in on key terms of interest and defer to legal experts for the rest. For instance, I focus on understanding the type of license – whether it's user-based (counting individuals) or device-based (counting machines), subscription-based (valid as long as payments are made) or perpetual (more enduring). Can vendors audit my usage? Yes, but the specifics are dictated by contract terms. If found non-compliant, what are the repercussions? Look for terms like true-up, additional license costs, or penalty fees. Examining license restrictions provides crucial context. Concentrate on what you comprehend and apply that knowledge to areas of uncertainty. Will you grasp everything? Likely not, unless you're a skilled attorney. Does it matter? Not in the realm of license management.

Now, take a moment to assess your environment. Once you've grasped the contract governing your licenses (referred to as entitlement), delve into your own operational setup to understand how these licenses are utilized – a process we term deployment. Consider the physical or virtual infrastructure involved: the size of servers or mainframes, the devices where software is installed (desktops, laptops), and whether any software is utilized in the cloud. A thorough examination of your surroundings involves a comprehensive review of license deployment. Integrating contract terms with deployment prompts critical questions: Can I deploy this license in the cloud? Does my virtualization approach align with vendor license terms? Do I possess sufficient licenses for my company's deployment? Understanding your environment ensures you can address the inquiries posed by contractual entitlements.

Don't hesitate to seek assistance. Regardless of your role in software licensing, there comes a point where you may need support. If you're part of a procurement team, assistance could come from a systems administrator who understands the technical infrastructure used for license deployment. If you're responsible for deploying licenses, legal counsel within your organization may offer valuable insights into license terms. And if you're managing a vendor audit, adopting a collaborative approach and involving everyone with a stake in software licensing can be beneficial. As consultants in IT, ISAM has encountered numerous contract complexities, deployment challenges, and intricate license scenarios. We refer to this collective knowledge as intelligence – the result of years of assisting countless clients navigate the complexities of software licensing. While we may not possess greater intelligence, our extensive experience allows us to offer tailored assistance where it's most needed.

I'm pleased to share that I successfully navigated my way out of the maze in the Egyptian market. By slowing down and allowing myself time to think, I was able to gain a clearer perspective. I carefully observed my surroundings and discovered a logical pattern within the maze. Additionally, I noticed small signs pointing to familiar landmarks, which aided my navigation. And I did ask for help. Despite my limited language abilities, I managed to communicate effectively by asking specific questions, ultimately reaching my desired destination.

When navigating the intricacies of software licensing, employing the same strategies can prove invaluable. Take a moment to slow down and clarify your end goal. Develop a clear plan to reach it. Next, assess your surroundings: What entitlements does your contract afford you? How does your infrastructure align with deployment requirements? This comprehensive review culminates in an Effective License Position. Lastly, don't hesitate to seek assistance. Engaging a skilled consultant experienced in audit defense can ultimately save your organization money. Establish a collaborative team, hold regular meetings, and don't hesitate to ask for support. While software licensing may be complex, with the right approach, the complexity can be managed, and the maze successfully navigated.


Alan Bain

Mr. Bain is presently the Vice President of Delivery for Information Systems Asset Management (ISAM). He provides asset management, software portfolio management, and vendor negotiation services to a wide variety of clients ranging from Federal Agencies to State Governments to Fortune 500 companies. He is directly responsible for managing service delivery and product development for ISAM. Mr. Bain has been in the Information Technology sector for more than 35 years and actively involved with Software Asset Management for more than 25 years. He is a Certified Software Asset Manager (CSAM) as well as ITIL Foundation certified.


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