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Keep track of your software and avoid breaking the law

If you have a licensing problem, it's not the end of the world, and you're not alone. There are steps you can take today to solve it - steps that ultimately may save you money and time, and improve the efficiency of your business.

Mike Newton of the BSAUnless you know what software your business is using, you can't know if you have the correct licences. So step one is to run a software audit. It's like any other audit - in fact it's easier, because there are a number of commercial software tools to do the job. "While many organisations realise the risks associated with illegal software, few are taking proactive steps to prevent mismanagement," says Mike Newton, the Business Software Alliance's spokesperson.

When the BSA's research showed that four out of five small businesses would like to use a software tool to manage their software if it was easy to use, it spurred the BSA to create Just Ask SAM. There you'll find three free software audit tools to download, as well as other downloads to tell you how to keep your software use legal and under control. It can even make sure you have the rights to the fonts that you use.

Manage your software

Another way to keep out of trouble is to use a company that exists specifically to keep your software installations and licensing under control. The effect of this is that you don't have to spend time and effort chasing the latest upgrades, or trying to find the cheapest licensing options; and you will never have to spend time justifying your licensing to a software provider.

Ronnie Sandham, chairman of SystemHost, one company that performs the service, says his clients are overwhelmingly small businesses employing between five and 75 staff, where the problems of managing software are most acute. "If you don't have the knowledge or resource to monitor the situation, a good solution is to work with a managed service provider who will ensure that everything is legal, will constantly monitor the systems and ensure that all software is kept up to date and compliant with regulations," he says. "Few small businesses are using software legally, for example most don't understand that they should not install the same copy of Microsoft Office or AutoCAD on more than one machine. The attitude tends to be the same as that with music downloads, in that they've never thought it was a problem and even if it was, they think that nobody will notice."

Save money too

Tony Fisher of SAMpartnersTony Fisher, the managing director of SAMpartners, specialises in working with businesses large and small who want to bring their software into compliance with the law. He is continually surprised at the lack of attention paid to the state of software licensing. "It's like your company cars, your building or your staff: you have to know what you own to be able to manage the cost," he says.

Whether you use a company like SAMpartners to audit what software you own, or use one of the commercially available tools, Fisher says that knowing what software they have helps businesses to train their staff effectively and provide the right equipment and support.

You might be running a risk today, without knowing it: software audits can reveal if your staff have installed illegal software without your permission. "In a small business, where you have to be cash-conscious to survive, what I call the car boot sale mentality is hard to resist, and your staff may buy counterfeits and install them on your computers," Fisher says, "In the last 25 engagements we have had, 20 of them have revealed some counterfeit software, and the problem is growing. It's shocking, and it's something small business need to stamp out to stay on the right side of the law."

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What next?

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