A Guide to Choosing the Best Software Asset Management Tools

Organizations rely on a variety of hardware and software assets that are critical to day-to-day operations and continued business growth. Software asset management (SAM) allows companies to track licenses, stay compliant, save money, and more. Some smaller organisations find they are able to manage software assets by using spreadsheets and manual processes. Most organizations, however, quickly discover the benefits of deploying specialized software asset management tools. Of course, choosing SAM tools is just the beginning. Either building or buying in the skills required to manage the tool and get the most out of it is also a must. 

In this guide, we offer a comparison of top software asset management tools and their functionality. We also talk through how your organization can get the most out of your investment.

The Two Types of Software Asset Management Tools

Broadly speaking, there are two types of SAM tools: end-point management tools and license management tools.


End-point management tools automate the packaging, deployment, and uninstall of software. They also perform functions such as patching and upgrades to existing software. Different end-point management tools may be specialised to provide support for workstations, mobile devices and servers. The tool or tools you choose will depend on the size and complexity of your estate as well as your specific requirements.

License management tools identify what is deployed on the estate (software discovery), track what software and licenses are owned (software entitlement management), and match deployment to licenses owned (reconciliation). Many specialist license management tools also provide a fourth functionality, software usage metering, which tracks how often an individual installation of software is actually used so that under-utilised software can be removed and reused by another person.

Many SAM tools integrate closely with IT Service Management (ITSM) tools, which manage incidents, requests, changes, etc. Many ITSM tools also come bundled with both end-point management and license management tool functionality as optional extras.

Although SAM tools are optimized to manage software, the breadth of data and functionality required to do this means SAM tools, in the hands of a skilled operator, have the potential to become a Swiss army knife for your IT estate, providing lots of data and information that allows you to plan and optimise not just your software, but the rest of your technology services too. SAM tools are also critical in improving cyber-security by identifying unpatched devices and older versions of software so they can be patched or upgraded.

What functions do software asset management tools perform?

The two types of SAM tools perform many functions between them and frequently overlap, particularly in the area of software discovery. Larger organisations may find they need specialised versions of both types of tools to effectively manage their estates. However smaller organisations will find that one tool, supplemented by external expertise when necessary, may suffice.

Below is an explanation of the main types of functionality provided by SAM tools:

1. Discovery

In order to manage your software, the first step is to identify what software you are actually using. To do this manually requires logging into every computer and virtual machine owned by the organisation, downloading cloud consumption data from your cloud platforms, and logging into software as a service (SaaS) vendor portals to identify what accounts have been set up.

This is a very time and resource intensive process! Fortunately, it can be easily automated, and this is something SAM tools are optimised to do.

In addition to identifying what software is deployed on machines, a good SAM tool will also obtain lots of other data about the machines and devices used on your estate, including useful details such as the make and model of the hardware, the version and edition of the software installed, patch and service pack levels, how often software has been used, and a wealth of other useful information that is impossible to obtain manually.

Software discovery is a very standardised capability. It often comes bundled with the majority of IT management tools, including IT Service Management Tools, end-point management tools, and license management tools available on the market. However, automated discovery and management of SaaS and other cloud services is much less common, so consider your requirements for this functionality when making a purchase decision. Be aware that generalised software discovery provided by non-license management tools may not be sufficiently granular to manage complex license models.

2. Build management

Automating the process of building new workstations and servers dramatically improves the efficiency of your IT teams, saving hours of time per new machine. Build management software also ensures that the operating system, network settings and basic applications are installed correctly on every new machine, minimising the need for human intervention as well as reducing the potential for human error.

3. Software packaging, deployment and uninstall

Most build management software can also automate the deployment of software, the majority requiring the creation of a ‘package’ which allows you to also automate certain software settings such as how the application connects to the network.

The ability to uninstall software from your estate is also a critical capability for ensuring you are able to optimise your software licensing costs and rationalise your application estate to minimise management overheads. Get your IT teams into the habit of creating ‘uninstall’ packages at the same time as they create the install package so they can easily remove software when it is no longer required.

If you are migrating your infrastructure estate to platform as a service (PaaS) or infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud services, consider how you will automate the build of your virtual machines in these environments. It is very easy for individuals to build larger virtual machines than are really required, which can dramatically increase long term hosting costs.

4. Patch and vulnerability management

Many end-point management tools will also help you keep your estate patched and up to date, helping protect your IT systems from cyber security risks. While build management and software packaging software are ‘nice to haves’ for many organisations, patch management is absolutely critical. If there is one area businesses should invest in, it is this.

5. Entitlement management

License management tools are optimised to store software contract and license information. They will help you keep track of your license renewals and allow you to relate different pieces of entitlement to each other. For instance, SAM tools will allow you to associate an upgrade or step-up license with the base license you originally purchased or apply support and maintenance benefits to licenses covered by particular contracts.

Good license management tools have a lot of inbuilt intelligence about the particular rules associated with each publisher and each license, reducing the chances of human error or misinterpretation of the rules later on when it is time to reconcile and optimise your licenses.

Unlike other SAM tool functionality, uploading the many and varied forms of software entitlement into a SAM tool is difficult to automate. It is critical that this part of the process is carried out by someone who knows what they are doing.

6. License reconciliation

The essence of software asset management is to match what you are using with what you own in order to understand a) if you are compliant with the terms and conditions of your licenses and b) whether you are getting the best use out of your software assets.

To perform license reconciliations manually is time consuming and requires highly-skilled individuals. The data-heavy nature of the process also means it is subject to a significant amount of human error.

License management tools are optimised to apply the rules of the most common software licenses and contract terms to discovery data in order to produce a Draft License Position. Not only does this significantly speed up the process of producing software reconciliation reports, it also reduces the chance of human error when manipulating the data. It also frees up time for your skilled SAM resource or external SAM partner to apply any terms and conditions or licensing rules that are specific to your business. Finally, it allows them to produce the final ‘Effective License Position’ — the definitive statement that confirms you are compliant with the terms and conditions of the software licenses.

A good license management tool will be able to automate the reconciliation of most software titles. The tool will have its ‘reconciliation engine’ (which applies software licensing rules to software entitlement and deployment) regularly updated to reflect changes in the terms and conditions of licenses available on the market.

7. Software & license optimisation

A good SAM tool should also include a metering function, which helps you understand how often software is being used and by whom. This allows you to either uninstall the application to free up the license for use by another employee or cancel or reduce the subscription to reduce the cost of the software.

Although use of this functionality may be restricted in some countries (eg in Germany it may need the agreement of work councils to meter software usage), if you are able to automate the uninstall of software using your end-point management tool, it is well worth getting the required approvals as it can save a lot of money.

SAM tools can also help you understand where you may have several types of software performing the same function, allowing you to select which is your preferred software and then uninstalling the rest and replacing it with the preferred software title. Reducing the number of software titles and versions on the estate can significantly reduce management overheads, help you achieve economies of scale and give you leverage when negotiating with vendors as well as help improve your cyber security as it means fewer types of software to patch and maintain.

Getting the most from your SAM tool

Physical tools require skill to use them effectively and regular upkeep. SAM tools are no different. A degree of care is needed to ensure you get the most out of them.

End-point management tools are generally the domain of technical IT staff who maintain your infrastructure and support your end users. It is important to ensure your technical staff are fully trained in the use of the tool and certified in software asset management. As a result, they will follow processes properly and be aware of the importance of maintaining the tool. A common mistake is to fail to ensure that software discovery and end-point management agents are installed on every machine, reducing their effectiveness. Another common issue is that technical staff fail to follow process and create uninstall packages that allow them to easily uninstall software when required. IT teams that are trained in SAM can avoid these oversights, as they will know how to maintain a constant cycle of planning, execution, testing, and improvements of software assets.

Those who use license management tools also require specialist training, not just in the use of the tool, but also in license management and software asset management in general. Uploading software entitlement into a license management tool is a very specialist job, and it is easy to end up with such poor-quality data that the tool becomes useless. 

Ensure that your software asset manager has received general SAM and license management training as well as tool specific training. There are many general SAM training courses available online, but the best options are those that align with global standards and provide comprehensive training. For example, the BSA Verafirm SAM Certification program offers the only comprehensive training and certification program in the world aligned to the ISO 19770-1, the standard written to manage IT assets including software. It also covers a range of topics, including cloud, bring your own device (BYOD), and internet of things (IoT).  Vendor specific licensing training is also available online and from some third-party specialists, as well as from some vendors themselves.

Finally, both end-point management tools and license management tools require a proper service-wrap.  When issues are identified with the tool — most commonly because discovery agents are not installed or the reconciliation engine is not being updated regularly — they are identified and fixed in a timely manner. 

Well managed software asset management tools can play a powerful role in helping manage and optimise your IT estate, whether on-premise or in the cloud. The two main types of software asset management tool — end-point management tools and license management tools — improve the productivity of your IT teams, help secure your IT estate from cyber threats, and can save money by allowing you to re-use and optimise your software estate. 

But no matter how good your SAM tools are, they will never be able to achieve the promised benefits without effective processes to support them, a solid service wrap to ensure their ongoing health, and, of course, skilled personnel or SAM partners to actually use them and get the most out of them.

Want to learn more about training your team or becoming certified to best manage software asset management tools? Take a look at the benefits of becoming a SAM certified professional.

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