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Webinar Recap: The SAM Quick-Start Guide to Managing SaaS

guide to managing SaaS


I’ve spent the greater part of the last 15+ years in the software asset management realm. It dates all the way back to my time at Microsoft, where I cut my teeth in understanding things like product usage rights, downgrade rights, maintenance coverage, etc. At the time, there wasn’t an industry called ‘software asset management’. 

Today, SaaS reigns supreme. And lately that’s made me question – What does this mean for software asset managers? How do we approach this opportunity? And for many – how do we even get started?

At our webinar, The Software Asset Manager’s Quick Start Guide to Managing SaaS, I shared my experience helping Nike build its SAM program from the ground up. Following are the key takeaways and your action plan to get started managing SaaS at your organization.

We’ll cover:

  1. Discovering the opportunity of SaaS management
  2. How on-premises software asset management differs from SaaS management
  3. Your quick-start action plan to managing SaaS as a software asset manager 

You can also tune in to the webinar on-demand here.

My Software Asset Management Journey

Four years ago, I was hired to be the director of software asset management at Nike. Prior to me joining, there was a very visible, highly publicized publisher audit. This was a golden opportunity for me to move my career into something as involved and challenging as creating a SAM program inside an organization as large and complex as Nike. 

About 30 to 60 days into starting the role, the internal audit folks asked me, “Lance, we need you to send us all the software publishers that Nike does business with.” 

So I did what any SAM professional would do. I walked over to our on-premises software license management tool, I exported a few reports, and cleaned them up. I had that response to the internal audit team within a couple of hours. This is good, right? 

Well, the internal audit team responded by saying, “Lance, I don’t see Aha!, I don’t see Box, I don’t see Smartsheet, I don’t see Airtable.” That’s when it hit me hard, because I had no idea where to find this information. 

I tried keying into our asset management tool, looking for any license entitlements, any deployments of any kind. The SaaS tools we were using simply did not exist in our traditional systems. I didn’t have any answers.

While that is happening, additional publisher audits start flooding in. As I’m attempting to find answers to these questions from the internal audit team, more external audits are hitting me. 

What is going on here? How many of these apps could there really be? 

My guess: 100. The number ultimately was 1,500. This is all too common. Organizations often have 2-3 times more applications than they think, according to Zylo’s research. This illustrates the challenge of SaaS sprawl and how many applications are available out there. And with more SaaS tools being developed every day, I do not expect this number to be any smaller in the foreseeable future.

Why does this matter? You must understand what you’re managing first. But why this question is so influential, is because one of the key responsibilities of a software asset manager in the SaaS space is understanding how and when these applications got here. 

Pureplay SAM vs SaaS Management

While the fundamentals of managing software are the same, the nature of pureplay on-prem software is different from SaaS. Let’s examine the differences.

Gaining visibility

When we talk about on-premises software asset management, typically we spend the majority of our time understanding what is out there in the environment. You’re looking for things like version, edition, and things like what type of operating environment is it sitting in? Is it a server operating environment? Is it virtual? If it’s virtual, how many CPUs are on the host? And what cluster is it in? And what data center is it in? And so on.

As we move over to SaaS, it’s almost the complete opposite. We start the process of managing SaaS with the financial details and the relationships required to achieve success. Gain visibility into what’s out there. How much is out there? When was it purchased? And by who? 


Next comes the deliverables – what you do with that information. For on-prem software, we’re putting together an ELP – an effective license position, a compliance report that we’re sharing to leadership, explaining how we arrived at these totals and what types of use rights we applied. 

When it comes to SaaS, there is no shortage of deliverables. It has completely sprawled, in terms of the types of deliverables that oftentimes come from understanding your SaaS footprint. Because SaaS is a more complex and dynamic asset to manage, these deliverables include things like a renewal calendar, spend reports and more – and these are often personalized or specific to the business unit that you’re working with. 

There’s never been a better time to be in the software license management realm, because we are now the center of that Venn diagram. We now have that single pane of glass to see where the spend is. And it gives us the opportunity to communicate and work with so many other groups. 


Once you have that visibility, you can look at remediation. If you have an effective license position, typically you’re looking for the deltas. You either true up, if you’re using more than you paid for. Or, if needed, there’s some semblance of an uninstallation activity. 

Conversely, remediation takes on many different forms in SaaS management. It’s inherently more complex with multiple layers to peel back. You’re involving staff. More players increases the need for collaboration and communication. When it comes to rationalizing applications, for example, you’re looking at a redundancy report. Which tools have functional overlap? It’s just another layer of complexity.

My recommendation for you and aspiring software asset managers all over the planet, is pay close attention to visibility. Live in that pocket of visibility. And bring awareness to what exists in your organization’s environment or the organizations that you may support. 

2022 SaaS Trends for Software Asset Managers

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My #1 Lesson: Decentralization

If you look at any ITAM or software asset management play guide from back in the day, it likely states that the key to success is centralizing everything. Centralize all of the assets that are purchased. Try to cobble it all together, so that you can then effectively report on it. 

With SaaS, it’s the complete opposite. And this is one of the key lessons I learned in my time at Nike. And this decentralization will only continue to grow and evolve.

So, how do you address it?

Typically in on-premises software license management, you’re working directly with IT. That’s where the SAM or ITAM organizations have typically sat. But those days are largely done with SaaS in the picture. 

I realized the hard way at Nike that I need to work with everybody at the company to be successful. There were certain individuals in the Jordan brand, in the Converse group, that I never had a business reason to connect with. Now through SaaS and the future of software asset management, I do. 

And that is a key point among all of this: there is a golden opportunity to increase your visibility. Granted, there’s more work and it’s a bit more involved. But the real magic is gaining visibility with the right people as you work with individuals and across the business.

Your SAM Quick-Start Guide

The good news about that highly visible audit at Nike, is that because we had such a selfless team and we all worked together. We put fact to paper to depict what a true asset management function entails, one that encapsulates on-premises software and SaaS. That culminated in a 2020 ITAM Implementation of the Year – given by the ITAM Review. 

SaaS delivered an opportunity for us beyond our daily activities of managing on premises software. If I knew then what I know now, here’s where I would ground my game plan. 

  1. Follow the money. Get the raw financial content to understand where the money is going. While compliance and audit are not key drivers to SaaS management, there’s an abundance of opportunity from the cost optimization perspective.
  2. Bring people together. This is an opportunity to bring people together from disparate groups and to grow your presence internally. The future of this business is grounded in people. It’s about bringing people together and helping them work together so they can do great work and have access to the content that allows them to do that.
  3. Have an effective license position. This gives you irrefutable, quantifiable facts to say, “This is our compliance position.” With SaaS, some of the data elements actually require business units to understand it together. Simply put, you don’t need to have all the answers. Lean on those that use that tool day in and day out. Understand how they’re utilizing it and get their feedback on what it does for them and how it allows them to be productive.

My challenge for you is to outline the business case to include SaaS in your SAM plan. 

Looking Ahead, the Future of SAM is SaaS Management

SaaS management is not simple. And it’s not one-size-fits-all. Each organization is a little different in what they want to achieve. Some are very, ‘Use whatever you’d like, we want our employees to be happy.’ While others tend to be more rigid and that’s okay. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. 

I’ll leave you with this poignant quote from hockey player, Wayne Gretzky. “Speak to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” 

Be thinking in terms of what’s next for software asset managers? What’s the next iteration of my job? What will it look like? SaaS is here to stay and it makes some for us to spend time developing an approach as we did in the early days and over the last two decades with on-premises software asset management.

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Lance GIles

As Zylo's SAM Evangelist, Lance is passionate about helping enterprises organize, optimize and orchestrate their SaaS. Before joining Zylo, Lance built the global Software Asset Management (SAM) function at Nike, owning the transformation of nearly 13,000 unique software applications across 1,275 suppliers achieving cost savings of more than $45M in three years.