What is software asset management (SAM)?

Software asset management (SAM) accounts for all software, both virtual and non virtual, along the software lifecycle.

SAM includes costs, budgeting, strategy, and decision-making processes in the acquisition, use, and disposal of software resources, whether internal or external, on premises, or in the cloud.

Role within organizations

SAM is more tactical in nature, as it focuses on balancing and accounting for software licenses and agreements purchased in addition to software being used. Software assets are managed to ensure that the usage of all software is in line with the terms and conditions of the software and other conditions from the software vendor. SAM is an ongoing process with strategic goals that:

  • Negotiate volume contracts to eliminate or reallocate software licenses that have been underutilized.
  • Work with corporate security and risk practices to ensure that the organization and software are compliant with licensing and security, and not vulnerable to attack.
  • Improve productivity and workflows.
  • Limit the cost of overhead by streamlining IT processes through automation or management, including patch deployment and issue tracking.
  • Establish and maintain processes associated with long-term SAM goals, including acquisition, documentation, deployment, and usage of software.

SAM technology

SAM processes are supported through a number of technologies:

  • License management: An intelligent repository for license reconciliation against data provided by inventory tools. This provides the organization with an effective license position, or an overview of places where the organization is over-licensed or under-licensed.
  • Managing patches: Automates the deployment of software patches. The goal is to ensure that all computers and software are up to date and compliant with organizational security standards.
  • Software inventory: Accounts for software across the computer network, including software file information, title, size, date, version, path, and product ID.
  • Software metering: A measurement of software utilization and whether or not the software is in compliance.
  • Application control: Managing who and what can access certain software or certain areas of software.

International organization for standardization (ISO)

The international organization for standardization (ISO) has a series of standards categorized under the ISO/IEC 19770 family of standards that assist IT teams manage assets, including software assets.

SAM began to rise in relevance as early as the 1980s, when mass software was being used across multiple systems within an organization. SAM’s popularity accelerated with the implementation of ITIL V2 and how it formalized SAM’s principles.

What is ITAM?

IT asset management (ITAM) is a series of practices that are meant to oversee and manage IT systems, processes, data, and hardware. An ITAM strategy involves the implementation, tracking, and maintenance of IT assets, and an assessment as to whether or not IT assets need optimization or replacement.

IT discovery vs. SAM vs. hardware asset management

A good plan for the future involves an analysis of what an organization has. It needs to be aware of what is on their servers, whether or not their devices are virtualized, and the configuration of some installations. This is a crossroads for discovery, SAM, and ITAM, as there is no single discovery tool or process that can account for the assets in both IT and software.

SAM as a bigger part of ITAM or ITSM strategy

Centralized IT planning is a highly recommended business practice for today, no matter how challenging. While decentralizing is tempting, it leads to too many siloes or IT expenses that are unnecessary. ITAM and IT service management (ITSM) are excellent keys for handling IT assets and services.

SAM plays an important role in ITAM, ITOM, ITSM, and SecOps as SAM is in charge of monitoring software assets, usage, configurations, and installations that help decision-making, even in a decentralized environment.

Cost savings

Complete overview of an organization’s software needs and current use provides a thorough understanding of cost. Once there is an understanding, software licensing can be tailored and negotiated to meet the needs of an organization.

Time savings: license management, lightning fast

Organizations spend an unnecessary amount of time accounting for software assets without a SAM system involved. An automated SAM system helps employees account for all necessary software asset information, which leaves more time for more important tasks.

Automation: no more heavy lifting, no more spreadsheets

There are SAM processes that are automated, which frees up individual time to focus on more complex software-related tasks. A SAM tool detects non-compliance, finds high risk configurations, suggests optimization options, and fills software requests within a current license.

Improves vendor relationship management

A good vendor relationship can go for years, assuming there is a good relationship and constant innovation of the vendor’s product. It is crucial to keep an open and consistent dialogue with vendors to ensure that vendors have an understanding of needs and software asset management goals.

Simplifies audits

Software use often requires audits to ensure compliance with laws, regulations, and contracts and licensing agreements. An unplanned audit creates financial loss for an organization, in addition to a loss of confidence in the organization and their products or services. It is important to know in advance whether or not an organization is in compliance, which SAM helps ensure with constant management and communication with software vendors.

Provides control over cloud software usage

SAM decreases the need for IT intervention in software installation, as it can be easily downloaded and installed from a vendor or the internet. The use of SAM tools help with the all-around control of cloud software spend. It also provides transparency for which cloud software products are being used by the organization, and on which devices. Licenses by an organization can be accounted for, including the terms and conditions, maintenance agreement, and use rights.

  • Software asset manager: In charge of purchasing and deploying software, handling software requests, compliance, and using reporting and documentation strategies.
  • Software asset management analyst: Ensures that software meets an organization’s requirements, monitors licensing compliance, ensures that software is properly upgraded, and prepares for migrations when needed.
  • Director of IT assets: Oversees all of the IT assets within a business, including hardware, software, digital assets, and cloud assets. They are also responsible for deploying and overseeing ITAM measures.

The move to cloud-based software is accelerating as companies demand more mobility and centralization. SAM systems are currently, or soon will be, hosted in the cloud. This helps with SAM in that SAM systems can be consolidated or centralized for more efficient management and information gathering.

SAM is also moving toward more automated systems on a single platform that accounts for information like terms and conditions, software costs, configurations, and usage. This frees up time for more complex tasks.


Software licenses are part of software that need to be managed and accounted for. Each license contains standards and information about how the software is to be installed and used, and it is the role of the organization to ensure that their company is compliant with the terms and conditions within the license agreement.


Vendors will often perform audits to ensure that you are in compliance with their licensing agreements, including the terms and conditions. There are two possible outcomes: compliant, or not compliant. There is no in between. Conduct internal audits regularly to ensure that an organization is in compliance with a license agreement, as audits done by vendors can be costly and time consuming.


Compliance is incredibly important, but it is also important to ensure that an organization isn’t overpaying for licenses due to a fear of being non-compliant. Unnecessary licenses over a long term can be more costly than an audit or being out of compliance in some cases, so it is crucial to take the time to ensure that an organization is only using the necessary licenses and staying compliant at the same time.

Strategy: plan ahead

SAM provides the ability for an organization to have consistent insight into software needs, both current and future. Teams then have the ability to plan ahead for software needs or restrategize based on current software changes or abilities, which provides a proactive strategic approach. This also includes conducting proactive audits to ensure that everything is in compliance.

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