The Internet of Things has some interesting implications for Software Asset Managers (part 2)

Gartner Projection for Growth in Internet of Things, from 0.9bn in 2009 to 25bn in 2020.

In part one of this blog, I discussed the potential impact of an exponential growth of connected devices, in terms of today’s software licenses.

However, the Internet of Things is already bringing a different licensing challenge. An ever-increasing number of smart devices are being brought to home, street and workplaces. As with many rapid technical revolutions, the focus has been on innovation and market growth. Monetisation has been a secondary concern.  Reality, however, has to catch up in time, and now we are seeing a number of blogs and articles (such as this example from Wired’s Jerome Buvat) debating how IoT vendors might actually start to make some money back.

So why does this matter to Software Asset Managers?

In April 2014, Gartner published a research paper, aimed at IoT vendors, entitled “Licensing and Entitlement Management is One of the Keys to Monetizing the Internet of Things“. Its author, Lawrie Wurster, argued strongly that vendors should see IoT devices not so much as hardware assets, but as platforms for software:

“…to secure additional revenue, manufacturers need to recognize the role that embedded software and applications play in the IoT, and they need to monetize this value”

Gartner point out a number of big advantages for vendors:

  • New offerings can be created with software enhancements, increasing speed to market and removing the expensive retooling of production lines.
  • A single license can bundle hardware, feature offerings and supporting services such as consulting.
  • Vendors can create tiered offerings, enabling the customer to start with basic levels of capability, but with the possibility to purchase more advanced features as they mature.
  • Offerings can be diversified. The vendor can create specific regional offerings, or niche solutions for specialist markets, without needing to manufacture different hardware.

This is not merely analyst speculation, though. It is already happening, and there are already vendors like Flexera helping to enable it. Flexera are a well known name to software asset managers (and my employer, BMC, works in close partnership with them in the SAM space), but another significant part of their business is the provision of licensing frameworks to vendors.  This year, they co-published a report with IDC which presented some striking findings from a survey of 172 device vendors

  • 60% of the vendors are already bundling a mixture of device, software and services into licenses:Chart from Internet of Things study by Flexera, showing that 60% of vendors say “We use licensing and entitlement management systems to develop new offerings”
  • 32% already use software to enable upsold options. More than half will be doing this by 2017.
  • 27% already use a pay-per-use model, charging by the amount of consumption of the software on the devices. A further 22% plan to do so by 2017.
    While there are clear advantages, both to vendors and consumers, there is a big unspoken challenge here. With licensing comes the difficulty of license management. This is not something that industry has done well even before the smart device revolution: Billions of dollars are paid annually by enterprises in compliance settlements.

    Many ITAM functions depend heavily on automated discovery of software installed and used on devices. However, today’s discovery tools may not adapt to discovering multiple new classes of IP-connected devices. Even when the devices are visible, it may not be easy to detect which licensed options have been purchased and enabled.

    Another big challenge might arise from a lack of centralisation. The growth of smart devices will be seen right across the business: in vehicles, facilities, logistics, manufacturing, even on the very products the company itself is selling. With software, the IT department typically had some oversight, although even this has been eroding (SkyHigh Networks, for example, now put the average number of cloud services in an enterprise at over 900… and it’s likely that a significant number of these were bought outside IT’s line of sight).  Put bluntly: IT may simply have no mandate to control purchasing of licensed devices.

This puts the IT Asset Management function in an interesting position. Software Asset Management and Hardware Asset Management, traditionally seen as two related but separable personas, are going to converge when it comes to smart devices. More widely, businesses may need guidance and support, to learn the lessons from IT’s previous difficulties in this area, and avoid even greater compliance and cost-sprawl problems in future.

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The Internet of Things has some interesting implications for Software Asset Managers (part 1)

Gartner Projection for Growth in Internet of Things, from 0.9bn in 2009 to 25bn in 2020.

The phrase, “the Internet of Things”, is believed to have been coined by a brand manager at Proctor and Gamble. Kevin Ashton, in a 1999 presentation, envisaged an exponential growth of connected devices, as supply chain logistics got smarter.

Today, the Internet of Things is seen as one of the most significant technology trends, with analysts predicting that the number of connected, smart devices will grow to tens of billions over the next few years.

Much of this proliferation will happen in the workplace. For Software Asset Managers, this could have significant implications. The Internet of Things will not merely be a corner case for SAM: it could impact some of the biggest contracts, with key vendors like Oracle.

Oracle’s licensing rules are explained, at some length, in their Software Investment Guide. One commonly-used license type is called “Named-User Plus”.  Aimed at “environments where users and/or devices can be easily identified and counted”, the license model is illustrated with the following example:

Forklift-based licensing example from the Oracle Software Investment guide

Here, 15 fixed temperature devices are communicating directly with an Oracle database.  There are also 30 forklifts, each of which has a transporter which also writes to the database.

In this case, a total of 415 licenses are required: 15 for the temperature sensors, and 400 for the humans operating the forklifts (because “the forklift is not a non-human-operated device”).

In the past, I’ve used this example, only semi-seriously, to illustrate what might happen if the Internet of Things grows at the speed of the pundits’ projections. Recently, the 2015 Gartner Predicts report for the Internet of Things projected an almost 28-fold growth in connected devices from 2009 to 2020.

Gartner Projection for Growth in Internet of Things, from 0.9bn in 2009 to 25bn in 2020.

The year 2009 is rather pertinent, because Oracle’s forklift example seems to have first appeared in the Software Investment Guide in that year (here’s an example at the Internet Archive).

If we crudely apply the Gartner’s connected growth rate to the number of devices shown in Oracle’s forklift example, there would be well over 1200 connected devices to license by 2020. That’s a trebling of the cost.

I have always laughingly acknowledged this as a crude illustration, until I chanced upon a March 2015 Forbes article titled “The Intelligent Forklift in the Age of the Industrial Internet of Things”:

Today’s “smart” forklift includes diagnostics that allow the equipment to signal when it needs to be serviced, speed controls, anti-slip technology that monitors wheel spin and improve traction on slick floors, collision detection, fork speed optimization, and more.

All of a sudden, my deliberately far-fetched example didn’t seem quite so unlikely.

As always, in Software Asset Management, the challenge is unlikely to be simple or contained. Software Asset Managers deal with many vendors, with many license types. Many of those licenses may depend on counts of connected devices. Many contracts pre-date the Internet of Things, which means costing models are outdated. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to make the consumer any less liable.

In part 2 of this article, we will look at another major challenge already arising from the Internet of Things: the increasing application of software-style license terms to hardware.