Software License Management: How GSA is Tackling Agency CIO’s Biggest Challenges

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Ultimately, the work we do at GSA is about service. To that end, it’s essential that we understand both the needs of our customers and the challenges they face meeting them. In meeting with our customer CIOs, some common themes frequently emerge:

  1. CIOs need more visibility into their assets
  2. CIOs are concerned about cyber threat exposure
  3. CIOs want to modernize their agencies while reducing costs

In addition, recent GAO audits reveal that most federal agencies lack comprehensive visibility into their software license position and do not fully understand what software is deployed, actively used, or actually required by their workforce. This prevents an agency from performing a meaningful requirements analysis prior to software purchasing, which in-turn can lead to duplicative acquisitions of software when reuse of an already existing asset would have been a better option. We think Software License Management may be one of the solutions to these issues.

The default response of launching a procurement before assessing existing inventory overlooks the possibility of meeting requirements with “free versions” of software or fully utilizing unused licenses. It also leads to future maintenance payments on software that may no longer be needed (it is estimated that 80% of annual software spend is on maintenance renewals1). In short, lack of insight leaves agencies vulnerable to significant overbuying and maintaining expensive and underutilized software assets (often called ”shelfware”).

Poor software asset management also leads to cyber security vulnerabilities. Lack of asset visibility creates a systemic barrier to knowing which software is unsupported or requires security patches. As we’ve seen recently, hackers look to exploit all possible vulnerabilities, with the easiest targets being older or unpatched versions of software that should not be on the network. Without asset visibility, how can a CIO know what investments are needed to modernize the IT environment?

If the root of the problem is the lack of visibility, then how do we see clearly? The answer is a concept called Software License Management (SLM). Software License Management is when an organization collects, analyzes and acts on software contract and usage data to make smarter procurement decisions. OMB, OFPP, and GAO have released statements and reports in recent months that call on federal agencies to increase their SLM capabilities, highlighting the financial waste and security threats that accompany lack of effective management. GSA is in the process of developing an offering that will help agencies generate this capability through a shared-service called Software License Management as a Service (SLMS). The SLMS solution will give agencies access to state-of-the-art software license management technology along with governance, processes and training to gain a handle on their software environments and eliminate waste.

The service is envisioned as the foundation for Government-wide license agreements and inter-agency license transfers. Future customers would purchase the service from GSA at a set fee per device, and receive detailed reports, dashboards, ITAM implementation assistance and a federal network of best practices.

So what’s next for this IT solution?
GSA CIO has signed up as the first customer and the SLMS pilot is launching immediately. Over the next several months, the service will continue to be refined based on the results of the pilot. GSA plans to incrementally scale up the offering for other agencies in FY 17.
GSA recognizes the importance of effective software license management and, with the cooperation of OMB, is taking the next step to answer our customers’ challenges.


“How to balance maintenance and IT innovation” Minda Zetlin; Computerworld Oct 2013

Last Reviewed: 2018-03-12