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Joe Birdsong, Director of Software Asset Management, shares the factors behind Visa's software asset management strategy
By Leslie T. O'Neill
Nobody makes a case for software asset management (SAM) like Visa.
The financial services company wouldn't be able to manage its
critical—and impressive—investments in IT without its recently matured
SAM program. The SAM team influences every aspect of IT throughout Visa,
which powers a secure, reliable global payments network that can handle
40,000 transactions every minute.
"In the past three years, SAM has been credited with saving Visa over
$200 million," says Joe Birdsong, director of software asset management
at Visa addressing the crowd at the 2014 SAM Summit in Chicago. "We're
making better decisions."
Visa adopted a globalized approach to IT asset management in 2006,
but it wasn't until 2011 that the company formed a team dedicated to SAM
and developed a company-wide SAM strategy. That first year was busy.
Birdsong's team supported four major ELAs (enterprise license
agreements) and addressed compliance issues "without incremental spend."
They also closed vendor audits with minimal exposure because Birdsong's
SAM philosophy is to do more than an auditor would, be more complete.
"Understand how [auditors] do things and understand their approach," he
Visa's SAM team also realized that they needed discovery and
compliance engine tools. They purchased BDNA Discover and Normalize and
Flexera FlexNet Manager, which they continued to roll out through 2013
and 2014. They've also deployed Microsoft SCCM (System Center
Configuration Manager) and CA Portfolio Asset Manager.
In the third year of the program, they established a policy to
complete a quarterly check on the ROI (return on investment) and
compliance on their ELAs, and they identified compliance exposure on
several key products in their ecosystem.
"Don't expect any tool to work perfectly out the box," Birdsong says.
"We use vendors that can provide the data points we need and a tool
that can be customized." The SAM team works closely with tool vendor
engineers to customize the products to meet Visa's needs.
Birdsong points out that Visa prefers this mutually beneficial,
highly aligned relationship with SAM tool vendors. He hopes that other
companies will find value in the changes Visa helps make to these tools.
Driving the SAM strategy
Birdsong identified three categories of drivers behind Visa's SAM
program: financial, legal, and operational. They want to optimize their
licenses, make the most effective use of services, and ensure they're
getting value out of their software spend. Legally, they're concerned
about noncompliance with license agreements. From an operational
standpoint, they're involved in title rationalization to choose the best
software as well as reducing headcounts to support additional titles.
To meet these drivers, Birdsong has taken a three-pronged strategy:
people, process, and tools. His team now includes 15 employees with
license compliance experience as well as Windows and Unix system
implementation and support expertise. They're also unfailingly good
communicators with backgrounds in business.
"People came from the Big Four to do auditing for Microsoft and IBM.
If you think one of them will be coming after you, the best thing to do
is to hire an auditor," says Birdsong.
His process includes ELA negotiations, audit responses, and title
rationalization, and he uses entitlement tools. His team has built
baselines for software product utilization that, he believes, are more
detailed than what any auditor would build.
"We want to have baselines available and be able to self-report —
and not waste thousands of hours going through an audit," Birdsong says.
"If we get wind of vendors doing audits, we'll do a review. We want to
be a low-risk candidate."
It's also important to understand what puts you at a higher risk of
an audit. He says, "High risk is a vendor that we have a high spend
with. If you're reducing spend or have products that are easy to audit
and have a high yield, you'll be a target."
Goals for 2014 to 2016
Birdsong isn't resting on his laurels. He's set several short-term
goals for his team. His plans for this year include achieving automated
and near real-time compliance, cost clarity around software consumption
by service, and consolidating software products. Next year, he intends
to renegotiate several major ELAs and perform license reclamation. And
in 2016, he expects to see maturity in preventive controls and
accountability as well as in non-standard metrics and platforms, and he
wants to add the discovery of and reporting on open source software.
He also wants to see his SAM professionals expand their work with the
sourcing teams and product managers. He points out that, after you've
worked through the immediate non-compliance liability, weeded out
software that no one uses anymore, and canceled unnecessary support
contracts, your SAM program can find other ways to add value to your
Birdsong says that today, "Folks come to us with any questions about
what software is deployed where and to understand all the software
that's licensed and available. We help them make better and smarter
Zeb Zigler, asset management analyst at Visa, also participated in this case study presentation.
Stay tuned for more on the 2015 SAM Summit in Chicago.
Leslie T. O'Neill is a writer based in Pleasanton, CA.
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