Challenges of Managing Software at Scale
Not surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges for software management in higher education institutions is shadow IT, or the use of unapproved services and software by staff and students.
Shadow IT remains a problem across organizations, with 80 percent of users opting to ask for forgiveness rather than permission when it comes to applications that streamline their work. A recent study of shadow IT in higher education, meanwhile, found that schools incurred significant costs managing shadow IT.
According to Simon Backwell, a member of the ISACA Emerging Trends Working Group and information security manager at Benefex, “Sometimes schools get trapped in shadow IT. You could end up with users or departments that are using software that IT doesn’t know about. There may be three or four programs doing the same thing and costing you three to four times as much.”
Thanks to the on-demand nature of Software as a Service tools, combined with the need for greater staff and student autonomy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy for higher ed institutions to find themselves swamped with applications — and service costs — that are outside of direct IT control. The result is a complex and convoluted licensing and warranty environment that puts teams in the position of reactive spending rather than proactive cost management.
Getting a Grip on Software Management
Effectively managing licenses and warranties requires visibility. If colleges and universities can’t see who’s using what on their networks, controlling costs becomes an exercise in frustration.
To get a grip on software management, three components are critical:
1. Understanding the landscape. Before colleges and universities can take steps to manage the licenses and warranties on their networks, they need to understand what they’re dealing with. Given that staff and students aren’t always forthcoming about the unapproved tools they’re using, Backwell suggests starting with a software amnesty policy so users can disclose their preferred solutions without facing consequences.
“There needs to be a discussion about the tools you’re using, and you need people on board,” he says. “Once you have a list of all the tools in use, you can see which are performing similar functions and whittle down the list to reduce total costs.”
2. Taking a pragmatic approach. Not all services and software are a good fit in higher education. Backwell highlights communication tools that lie outside the scope of IT control.
“At the start of the pandemic, some of our users wanted to use WhatsApp and Facebook,” he says, “but these solutions aren’t always reliable and don’t offer any visibility.”
As a result, IT teams need to be pragmatic in deciding what to keep and retire. Here, it’s about finding balance. IT often earns a reputation for continually saying no to new software and solutions, which can promote the increased use of shadow IT. Instead, it’s worth taking a more collaborative approach that balances preferred solutions with spending restraint.
3. Deploying IT asset management solutions. The evolving nature of higher ed IT environments means that while regular audits of existing tools can help set the stage for improved cost control, schools also need IT asset management solutions capable of combining financial, inventory, contractual and risk management responsibilities to provide a holistic view of software assets. This enables IT teams to easily access information about current software costs, upcoming license renewals and warranty expirations.
When it comes to higher education software, cost and complexity are on the rise. To effectively manage evolving environments, schools need a three-pronged approach that prioritizes visibility, pinpoints best-fit solutions for users at scale and proactively monitors software assets.