Rory Canavan

SAM and the Education Sector

Blog Post created by Rory Canavan on Sep 1, 2017

I was recently asked to comment on a LinkedIn post asking whether Software Asset Management has any unique aspects to it that pertain to education. A fine question, and one that I thought was worthy of greater examination than in the relatively short space that LinkedIn offers for its replies.


First and foremost, education falls into the public-sector bracket, and so straight away any contracts to be negotiated should be actioned under such an umbrella.  It sounds obvious, and is where resellers should steer educational establishments for six and seven-figure contracts; but that's not to say that other (smaller) deals should not also be transacted in such a fashion.  The benefit of operating under an educational umbrella is that (typically) a vastly reduced price point compared to its commercial equivalent is measured against the FTE head-count for establishment-wide software.  In the UK, such a figure is required by the Department of Education (specifically HESA - Higher Education Statistics Agency) for numerous calculations and payments from central government.  So obtaining an up to date figure from which to use in contract pricing calculations may not be the Gordian knot it first appears to be.  It would be nice to colour all software in a higher educational establishment as academic, however, software vendors are increasingly coming to realise that several shades of grey exist:


Academic:  For students to learn and study with

Commercial:  For the university to transact the educational lifecycle

The grey bit:  Senior (Masters & PhD-level) students who might be in business incubators who take academic software and start to use it for commercial purposes.


How software vendors view education:  Generally, education establishments are not given as a hard a time when conducting software audits - although certain software vendors are starting to buck that trend.  I know of one 20,000+ seat organisation in the UK that took exception to their treatment by a global database provider, and subsequent to a protracted settlement have made it their life's mission to remove all of that vendor's software from their IT estate.


Educational Rock-stars:  Where education suffers more than most with SAM is that as well as providing a springboard for our youth into commerce, many educational establishments are still not clear on the boundaries between academic and commercial use of software.  It's not necessarily the full-time IT staff that are the worst offenders; universities do their best to attract the best and the brightest students and tutors and look to furnish them with whatever resources they need to drive progress in their respective fields of study.  In return for pledging academic allegiance to a university, the university grants such stars financial "elbow-room" to spend grants and academic funds as they see fit.  Accordingly, purchases are most likely not centralized, which leads to pockets of shadow IT springing up like whack-a-moles on speed.  This situation is made yet more complicated if such funding is provided through joint-ventures, either with other universities or commercial organisations.  Another educational establishment I was at had an Educational Agreement in place with Microsoft, and so (at the time - circa 2012) could have purchased an instance of Visio 2010 professional for approximately £39.  However, due to the commercial liberty granted to budget holders, numerous receipts were being presented to the university for the full-blown retail instance costing in excess of £390.  I'm sure the licensing gurus could wax-lyrical about the limitations of the retail instance, but the economic drawback is eye-watering.


Licence Pools:  If your educational establishment is comprised of multiple colleges or faculties, then such sub-units can get very attached to the software they buy.  If the university then embarks upon a software recycling exercise, it will most likely find that it has to maintain multiple licence pools - one large one for software that has been bought centrally and can be deployed anywhere in its domain, and smaller pools that hold software the colleges or faculties bought, but can only be re-deployed back to that college or faculty.  This is no small feat.


Risk vs. Reward:  In a previous blog we touched on the merits of creating a Supported Software Catalogue; it establishes a boundary for the SAM/ITAM team to say: "This is the software we are offering management overhead to - and no more".  However, as we alluded to earlier, the academic liberty granted to budget holders to spend their funds in whatever manner they like, means that the management overhead in seeking to maintain a Supported Software Catalogue could be greater than the time and resources the university has to oversee SAM as a whole.  If ever an institution could demonstrate a risk vs. reward approach to SAM, then a university is surely the place to see this put into practice.  If a bell-curve was created of software installations in a typical university, then the respective tails at either side of the volume installations would struggle to fit on an A1 sheet of paper.


Choice of Software:  In letting academics choose the titles they wish to instruct in, the educational establishment is trusting that they will pick the latest release of that software to demonstrate the educational point trying to be conveyed.  However, tutors are indeed human, and are prone to habit and routine.  Again, circa 2012, we conducted an inventory sweep of a university's IT estate and found that Adobe CS2 was actively being used as part of a lesson plan.  Had I been a student on that course, I might well have raised hell about this:  I could have finished a 3-year course and been adjudged a professional user of 10-year old software, and largely unemployable because my learning curve hadn't kept up with the versions deployed in business.


This is a problem not just for the students, but also for the university:  tertiary education is a hot-bed of competition and increasingly establishments are not merely competing with their geographic neighbours, but with the rest of the world (due in large part to on line study).  If a university is not able to offer industry-standard software in its courses, then it is losing ground to its competitors.


Conclusion:  Software vendors may not feel as rapacious when it comes to launching audits in education as they might in commerce, due in large part to the fact that their future fan-base is being shaped in this section of the public-sector.  Additionally, if discounted pricing is already being offered to education, then the pickings resulting from non-compliance are not going to be as great as if full commercial pricing was being applied to an audit scenario.


Interestingly though, the drivers for education remain the same as the public sector - value for money, and profits through the attraction of students in using the most appealing/employable software they can get their hands on.