One of the most common issues I see in my day-to-day SAM work is incomplete data. In many cases, the incomplete data is a surprise to the teams assembling it, and the teams analyzing it as well. To some extent, it is unrealistic to expect data to be complete at the first, second, or even the third try. But one thing’s for sure: you don’t want your publishers to be the ones who discover the incomplete data! Industry news articles abound with tales of companies who thought they were in control of their inventories, only to find themselves on the hook for large settlements when deficiencies were found in them. 

The typical situation unfolds as follows: a product has been assigned a designated “Product Owner” who is supposed to be responsible for all aspects of the product’s use in the company. The Product Owner believes they have a good grasp on who’s using it and where, and provides data representing what they believe to be the correct and complete inventory.

Days or weeks pass, and eventually something comes to light revealing additional usage elsewhere in the firm that was unknown to the Product Owner.

How does this happen? There can be many reasons:

  • Improper Implementation, Setup, And/Or Maintenance Of Discovery Tools
    This is a common gap in companies’ inventory arsenal, and maybe the most common contributor to incomplete inventory data. The best discovery tools in the world (themselves worthy of endless blog posts!) can only be effective if they are collecting complete data and reporting the right things. A good portion of our business, and others’ in the SAM industry, is helping companies navigate proper deployment and setup of their discovery tools. These are complex tools to implement, and complex tools to operate. Let’s also remember these tools must be properly maintained! Issues in tools’ operation can leave agents not working on some computers, meaning nothing will be discovered for those machines. That’s a considerable risk.
  • Incomplete Understanding Of What The Product Owner Must Manage And Know
    For example, the Product Owner grasps the usage of the product and how it’s configured, but doesn’t fully understand the specifics of the licensing metrics. Thus the data the Product Owner provides fails to account for the full footprint (say, it leaves out Disaster Recovery environments when the license agreement stipulates these must be counted).
  • Ineffective Or Incomplete Communication To The Teams “Actively” Managing The Software
    Perhaps the Product Owner is in full command of the license terms, but the teams downstream of the Product Owner – those who are in daily contact with the software – do not get the full picture from the Product Owner due to internal communication gaps. As a result, they configure footprints or add additional ones without informing the Product Owner – perhaps believing, say, that they have an “All You Can Eat” contract covering their use of the software, when in fact there is a limited entitlement.
  • Lack Of Understanding Of The Steps To Collect Inventory
    Despite a confident understanding of the license agreement and metrics, there can be communication gaps preventing all participants in the data gathering effort from completing the inventory properly. For example, certain data centers may mistakenly be left out – maybe it is not understood that a contract covers global data centers, not just a regional subset. As a result, participants in certain data centers fail to produce an inventory at all.
These are just a few examples of factors that can lead to incomplete inventory data. So how do we ensure that such issues don’t arise during our inventory exercises? Here are a few possible remediation steps:
  • Plan Regular Kickoff Meetings Before Every Inventory Exercise
    This is perhaps one of the most critical steps in every inventory effort. And often one of the most overlooked. Even if this is a regularly scheduled work effort, do not assume that all participants have an equal understanding of what is required. Holding a kickoff meeting provides an opportunity to review steps and responsibilities before launching the activities, and reduce the likelihood of errors leading to incomplete inventories. Some key topics:
    • Does everyone REALLY understand what’s required and their role?
    • Get Product Owners and teams to share their war stories: what works/what doesn’t? What past mistakes and remedies can they share?
    • Ask how participants are communicating needs and action items to their team
  • Ensure That People Are Fully Trained In Any Discovery Tools In Use
    There can be many hands pulling the discovery tool levers. Ensure that anyone involved in working with these tools has had uniform training and is aware of the expectations regarding what qualifies as “correct” use of the tool. There may be specific work habits and/or tasks that are not obvious to all users. Be sure there is supporting documentation to guide team members before embarking on inventory efforts.
  • Document, Document, Document!
    It’s a common enough adage – there’s never enough documentation to instruct and record pertinent facts about any business process. An inventory effort is no different. Making sure there is adequate, clear documentation of the proper processes to follow, expectations, timelines, etc., will go a long way to ensure a complete inventory effort.
  • Make Sure There Is Follow Up After Inventories Are Completed
    Are Product Owners surprised by any results? Why? Was something missed? The inventory should be discussed and examined by the Product Owners, and their comments and feedback solicited after each effort. If there are unexpected wrinkles, this will be the time to spot them and determine remedies – and document them, implement them, and communicate them – so that the same issues are avoided in the future.

Though some of the above remedies may seem obvious, it’s notable how often one or all of these suggestions are overlooked. Perhaps they are planned for, but with slipping timelines and competing priorities, the best intentions fall by the wayside. Without these kinds of events, however, the chances of incomplete inventories increase.

The common gaps and suggested actions above are, of course, only a small sampling of the myriad ways incomplete data gets compiled during inventory efforts. Even following the recommended actions above, or other suggestions (please provide your ideas!), there’s still a good chance that each time you conduct an inventory effort, there will arise some missing or incomplete data. Take comfort knowing that you are not alone – and that there are steps you can take to improve the results each time you initiate the process.

So, after reading the above, I’m sure this must ring familiar to many of you. What additional ideas do YOU have to ensure that inventory efforts get the best data possible? Please share!