Software Usage Metering – what is it and why does it matter?
The software licensing industry confuses customers with the term software usage. To a certain extent this confusion works in the favour of the software vendors and software asset management advisors don’t always help to clarify things. This overview gives some simple definitions and explains the four levels of software usage metering.
Many software vendors use the term “software usage” incorrectly as they mean software installations. They will say “you are using 1,000 licenses” but it exactly means you have installed 1,000 licenses when the software may have been installed but never opened or used.
And because 1,000 licenses have been installed, the vendor want a payment for 1,000 licenses even you only actually use 200 of those licenses. In effect you will be wasting 80% of those license payments and associated support costs.
Real usage is when you are doing something with the software and using it for the purpose it was intended. You can get information about what software is being used by who from software usage metering technologies. There are four distinct levels of software usage metering:
- Last used date. This is purely information about when the software was last opened or closed. It is a snapshot which tells you that the user has actively used the product. What is doesn’t tell you is how long it was used for and if there was any real interaction. You can get this data from SCCM.
- Standard software usage metering. This will tell you when software was opened and closed along with how long it was open for. This gives you real information about who is using what and for how long. However users may have applications open all day but may not actually use them or have them in background whilst using other applications. This can be important if the product is licensed on a concurrent basis and users are keeping open an application and preventing others from it. In this case a deeper level of usage understanding may be required.
- Front of screen metering. This tells you which application is at the front of screen as well as how long it is open for. In effect you can differentiate between the time that applications are in background and the time when they are front of screen and fully visible to the user.
- Active usage metering. This is when you meter the actual time that a user interacts with an application with keystrokes and mouse movements. If there is no interaction, the usage metering will pause so you can report exactly how long a user was actively using the application for. This gives the most detailed level of usage metering but the data collected will create larger files so care needs to be taken that you are using this type of metering selectively.
When implementing usage metering, the type used depends on what you are trying to be achieved. The most common reason is to compare the number of licenses purchased against the number actually opened and accessed by users. In this case level 2 or even level 1 usage is sufficient. However if there is a requirement to reduce the cost of licensing of expensive concurrent software then level 3 or 4 will be relevant to cut down on “license hogging”.
The recovery of unused software or “license re-harvesting” can save considerable costs for license renewals and maintenance charges. With SaaS and subscription software the potential for cost savings is even greater. The most important thing to remember is that software usage metering is completely useless unless the data collected leads to an action that delivers an efficiency benefit. The simplest way to get real results from usage metering technology is to ensure that reports are automatically generated to show what software licenses can be re-harvested and from which users. Anything that gives you usage data but no useable reports will only create work and lead to frustration. In the saying “What gets measured gets managed” the important aspect is to ensure things get managed.