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Managing and Protecting It All... With a Lot Less

I’ve written before about important interpersonal skills to include in your IT arsenal, such as project and time management, risk assessment and strong communication capabilities. I’ve always believed these were critical to any successful person or project. If a person can’t manage their time, or keep a project organized, or communicate to their team and customers, the likelihood of a successful conclusion diminishes rapidly.

Has your work day expanded? Do you have fewer resources than you did two years ago? A week ago? I’m also going to guess there isn’t a chest full of cash available. And, if our current experience is anything like yours, you are juggling more projects than in the past. Many of these projects are the direct result of the need to automate, simplify and provide a solution. The net result may be beneficial, but it’s adding extra workload to IT.

Prioritization has become critical in our planning process to determine where we continue to focus our attention, and that process has to involve all levels... from end-users to senior management. Everyone I’ve spoken with clearly understands that, and we’re all working together to refine our plans, continue forward momentum and do the best that we can.

And, while all of that is happening, we still have to keep up with our day-to-day work, and not allow things to slip through the cracks.

One area that can be easily overlooked (or worse, ignored) is software licensing and compliance with end-user license agreements (EULAs). Software isn’t cheap and the costs associated with not following the rules can be severe.

Several years ago, we took a proactive approach to review our existing licensing and our installation base to ensure compliance. Honestly, nobody was thrilled with the prospects of the work involved. We knew how difficult it would be to reconcile everything, and this wasn’t going to be fun! So we started by leveraging our existing tools, systems and people as best as possible to help us get needed results.

CONTROLLING SOFTWARE
Many years ago, we struggled with controlling software. Local business units would purchase what they needed from whom they wanted. Installations were often performed locally and hopefully in full compliance with licensing requirements. Every site did something different with the media and proof of purchase. The people changed, documentation was often scattered everywhere and it was a difficult process to control and monitor.

Years ago, we implemented specific software ordering procedures so we could confidently track all purchases. Our internal purchase order system became a key component of this process in the early days and now provides us with comprehensive detail regarding each purchase. This was critically important, but as we began this new project, we quickly realized the daunting task ahead of us and we needed to find better solutions.

We lacked having data readily available, so our first task was to take a shot at reviewing our existing software installations. Utilizing standardized inventory and reporting tools, we were completely stunned at the number of software titles and various versions installed throughout our company. We compiled a list in the thousands.

As we began reviewing the list, we quickly realized that it would be best to begin fixing some of the issues we saw during the process.

We spent months — a little bit at a time — reviewing the results, identifying who used the software, its purpose and function, etc. When we passed the point of having over 100 different applications just to transfer a file, it became apparent this was going to be a large, time-consuming process. As we grouped the software by function, we focused on a goal to reduce the sheer volume.

We investigated the titles and often found that many of the applications were simply chosen because of a specific user preference. This is something they had previously used and it worked for them... and that became the recommendation for purchase. In many cases, users simply weren’t aware of other solutions.

A good example dealt with the wide variety of FTP software we found. Some were free, some quite expensive and most did the same basic function.

Working through our lists, we began removing the “one off” installs of those products that weren’t being used or weren’t needed. When we came across an application that a user did require, it was usually a simple process to talk with them and switch to a different product.

It didn’t take long before we were actually seeing a tremendous reduction of our installed software list.

APPROVED APPLICATIONS
We used this opportunity to also look at things from a different point of view. We identified all of those products that were necessary. These became our preferred titles and we used this information to create a new Approved Software Database. This is simply a database of applications approved for purchase and installation, a description of the product and a searchable feature that allows users looking for solutions to find an appropriate product. This gave us a base of a few hundred products, certainly much better than the thousands we feared.

A request feature was also added to our intranet application, providing users the opportunity to submit a request for review by a software committee. The product and request is reviewed, compared with other existing tools, and if approved, is added to our database. It’s simple and working very well.

This information has allowed us to begin self-imposed internal audits of software packages. It’s worked so well we now regularly complete these reviews to ensure compliance and necessity.

This has evolved into new methods of tracking software and managing license compliance. And because we now thoroughly manage, control and monitor the process, it has simplified things greatly. We’re actually quite proud of the results. This project solved many issues for us including protecting us from the risks. We certainly don’t need unnecessary expenses during these times.

This is the type of ongoing, collaborative effort that can be extremely rewarding on many fronts, and be paced to fit your existing workload. Don’t take a chance and hope for the best. Start the process now and you’ll begin enjoying the rewards rapidly! Count on IT!

Michael J. Sutton is director of IT at Media General Broadcast Group in Richmond, Va. He can be reached atmsutton@mgbg.com.