by Lucy Hunt on 24/07/12 at 1:42 pm
A software audit takes place at the request of a software vendor, or a trade organisation that represents the software industry such as the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Business Application Software Developers Association (BASDA). In most cases, such audits have been effectively pre-agreed by the business in question as part of the license agreement for the software they use.
The main purpose of a software audit is for the vendor or trade association to ascertain whether your business has the right number and type of licenses for the software installed on your machines and network. If it is found that you are using unlicensed software, have more instances of a piece of software installed than you have licenses for, or are using it in a way that contravenes the terms of the license agreement then you will be liable to pay considerable fines and/or damages.
Unfortunately for many businesses, and particularly those that have expanded rapidly and currently lack a rigorous license management solution or software asset management strategy for monitoring usage, these kind of audits are on the increase. In mid-2011, research firm Gartner found that 65% of businesses they surveyed had undergone a software audit in the past 12 months, an increase of 4% on the previous year’s figures. The number of incentive schemes for employees and others to ‘shop’ businesses that use unlicensed or under-licensed software is also on the increase.
Role of the BSA
One of the leading organisations that carry out software audits on behalf of its members is the Business Software Alliance (BSA). Its members include many of the biggest names in the software industry including Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, McAfee, Symantec and Dell. It is a trade organisation with the principal aim of preventing and punishing infringement of software copyrights, and it is very thorough in its approach to these tasks.
The BSA regularly carries out software audits of companies it suspects of non-compliance. Controversially, it runs reward schemes in the UK and internationally to encourage employees and members of the public to report businesses whose licences aren’t in order. Recently the reward for UK whistleblowers was increased from £10,000 to £20,000 – possibly enough to turn even supposedly loyal employees.
Once a company is suspected of license infringement it will be given a chance to cooperate with the BSA by performing a self-audit, or else face court action. Any unlicensed software will carry substantial fines, and the company will be forced to come into compliance by removing any unlicensed software or purchasing the additional licenses needed. There have been cases where maximum costs to companies in such situations have been in excess of £100,000, but it’s worth remembering that such high figures generally apply only to very large companies with hundreds or even thousands of computers.
How to safeguard your business against software audits
It sounds intimidating, but an effective form of protection against software audits is to have a sound software asset management strategy. This involves carefully monitoring exactly what is installed on which machines and ensuring that each and every individual piece of software has a valid and appropriate license for its use.
This does of course need to be implemented prior to your receiving notification of a software audit, but software asset management can effectively prevent any compliance issues and related costs from damaging your business’s reputation, and your bottom line numbers.
Lucy Hunt is a technology and business blogger, currently writing on behalf on behalf of Licence Dashboard, a software asset management and software management solutions vendor.