Electricity distributors CitiPower and Powercor are considering reining in a 2000-strong enterprise application portfolio after mapping out their software assets formally for the first time.
The utilities are two years into a software asset management project that has them manually populating a software asset management (SAM) system with contract and software license data.
Although the chosen SAM product Flexera is capable of importing existing data held in spreadsheets and license inventories in third-party tools like Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager, CitiPower and Powercor "decided to basically start from scratch", according to internal SAM specialist Paull Charman.
"We could've just imported those [high-profile software vendor inventories] without any problems whatsoever, but others we had [in] a spreadsheet that said, 'We've got 10 Corel licenses' and that's it," Charman says.
"I guess my maybe pedantic side thought, 'Well, it's not really good enough to just rely on someone who's put that we own 10 licenses of this product in a spreadsheet. We need to really pull it out and go through it'.
"We saw the requirement to go through and self-audit what we think we own and what we can prove we can own."
Charman is entirely responsible for populating the SAM system with CitiPower and Powercor's license data for 2000-plus applications - of which 160 can be found on ten or more machines.
Despite the decision for manual input, he says data entry isn't the most time-consuming aspect of the project.
Rather, it's piecing together an understanding of licensing status from paper contracts, spreadsheets, purchase orders and the configuration management database.
"It's the sitting down and going through that [contract] folder, looking through the history and working out what we bought, where we bought it," Charman says.
"The interpretation and analysis of our position probably takes the most time. Once we actually understand where we sit, we can put it in the system and it's in there ready to go."
Work to date has focused around desktop and Windows Server licensing but will soon expand to "the data centre side of things", which includes Oracle/Sun and Linux environments.
Understanding exactly what they have and what it is used for could also help CitiPower and Powercor eventually slim down their expansive enterprise application portfolio.
"There's definitely talk of trying to bring [the size] down," Charman says.
The size of the portfolio is likely influenced by a number of factors, including the IT shop.
"The best way to describe it is we're probably a 'yes' IT department," he says. "Over the years, we'd probably go out of our way to keep the customer happy.
"In the past, the software evaluation process was more centred around 'Will it work?' rather than 'Will it work and have we got something already that does the same job?"
The specialisation of utility infrastructure and the distribution of local administrative rights also plays a part.
"With the industry we're in - electrical distribution - there is a lot of software that is linked to a piece of hardware that runs a certain aspect of the network," Charman says.
"Also, [there's] a lot of freeware through developers that have got local admin rights".
Charman says there is a cross-team push to "start to work down and understand what software does what".
However, he notes a key challenge that "some of the more intricate role-specific software packages [in use] are ... difficult to actually interpret what they do for each person", despite appearing to duplicate others in the app portfolio.
He cites the use of Corel in pockets of the organisations. "Predominately we try to use Adobe products but in some aspects we've got a Corel drawing product because you can open an AutoCAD drawing in it.
"Instead of having to buy an AutoCAD license, you can buy a Corel license for a couple of hundred bucks, open up an AutoCAD and mark it up in Corel to present to someone.
"There's all those various [types of] situations. That's just one I actually know the background of.
"You can imagine with 2000 odd applications it's quite a task to bring that back."
CitiPower and Powercor started the current SAM project in "late 2010" and went live with the FlexNet Manager Suite for Enterprises in May last year. The time since has been spent populating the system.
However, it's not the first time that SAM had come up as a key concern.
"Maybe three years prior, we'd looked at ManageSoft before it was bought by Flexera and a few other products then," Charman says.
"We made a recommendation to go with ManageSoft at that point but never did."
The project was put on the backburner when the team driving it left.
"At the time it was being run by a contract project manager and another person that was in my role at the time," Charman says.
"The contract project manager moved on and the person in my role moved on and that basically killed the project."
Being prepared for software audits is generally a key driver for SAM projects.
Prior to having a formal system, CitiPower and Powercor had been audited by Attachmate and received two self-audit requests, including one from Adobe, Charman says.
"Using Attachmate as an example, we were audited for some licenses that we'd bought 15 years ago," he says.
"We'd paid maintenance up until about three-to-four years ago and decided there was no point in paying the maintenance any further, then a couple of years later we got audited by [Attachmate].
"I guess from their perspective it's, 'Well, are they still using the same amount of licenses that they bought 15 years ago? Surely they need more?' I think thats often a trigger for an audit."
The companies also regularly meet with the likes of Microsoft each year to check license compliance.
Charman notes that the utilities haven't been audited since commencing the current SAM project - a coincidence more than anything.
"No one knows we've made that change," he says.
By the numbers
The SAM system has found more immediate use in the utilities' annual budget cycle, which occurs every May.
"We used it fairly extensively with analysing what we'd spent on renewals for our major software last year," Charman says.
"We used that to request and set the budget for 2013.
"I guess that was a step forward because although I hadn't been involved in budgeting prior to that, it was also a case of pulling out folders and looking up purchase orders and that sort of thing to find out where we're at with [software license spend]."
For advice on what to do when a software auditor knocks, read iTnews' guide here.