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I’m SAM from the BSA, I’m here to help you

If your business uses software then you could well be at risk of using unlicensed software – More than 30 percent of all business software in use in Australia is unlicensed – and companies caught using unlicensed software face significant financial and legal penalties.

Yet it’s an issue that many businesses small and large often dismiss. If you are one of those businesses then you need to know that in the last few months many Australian businesses have been investigated and those caught using unlicensed software have faced monetary settlements ranging from $45,000 to $200,000.

Research shows that unlicensed software use is most often the result of lack of management rather than intentional copying. In large organisations with sophisticated IT departments, uncontrolled downloading and installing of software is increasingly rare, as these organisations both have the resources to strictly control their systems and recognise the risks of lack of control.

However, small to medium businesses frequently do not have full-time specialist IT management resources and as a result they don’t manage their software.

Getting back in control of your software licenses is quite straightforward. It’s called SAM – software asset management. It involves you getting to know what software your business has and how often it is used. With that information in hand you can rest easy in the knowledge that you won’t be breaking the law, and you’ll also reap a great many other financial rewards.

The ideal time to get a handle on your company’s software is now, as part of your end of financial year preparations. Why? Well once you’ve conducted your software audit if you have any "licensing burdens"- that is software that is being paid for but not used – you can make necessary software purchases and claim the tax deductions with your next return.

Other benefits from SAM include helping your business negotiate cheaper site licensing or concurrent usage licensing, reducing support and purchase costs. SAM may also help you find out if your staff are downloading software, games and music while at work. In short – SAM can help you get back in control.

• So what is SAM? Basically it’s a set of policies and procedures you should put into place in your business to keep track of software and licensing requirements. It involves five simple steps:

      • Establish a software asset register – a list of all software and version details, serial number and location

      • Lock away original disks, appoint an administrator of the disks and establish administrator profiles for installation and downloading of software

      • Conduct periodic software audits and compare installed programs against the software register.  

      • Software Asset Management can also be aided by installing metering tools that automatically keep track of software programs running on networks.

      For management with very limited time and resources, random spot checks of a sample of computers – preferably unannounced – also substantially reduce illegal installation and use.

The BSA offers free audit templates, checklists, guides and tools to help businesses plan for their future software needs through their website http://www.bsaa.com.au and over 1000 of these resources are downloaded anonymously every month.

Given the substantial economic benefits available from Software Asset Management, as well as the peace of mind of achieving copyright compliance and reducing risks of legal actions and damages, it’s easy to see how SAM should be implemented in every business using computers.

* Jim Macnamara BA, MA, PhD is spokesperson for the Business Software Alliance . He also runs the Asia Pacific office of a Computer Aided Research company, CARMA International, and has developed and marketed software.

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