Asset Discovery tool vs Software licensing management

Can anyone in this group provide a clear distinction between a Asset discovery tool vs a Software licensing management tool. What each tool can achieve (high level) and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Thank you

Hello Betty-Ann,

Some ITAM tools can do it all (discovery, inventory & license mgmt); however, some tools only do license mgmt and some license mgmt tools only have mediocre tools for discovery & inventory.

Discovery & inventory tool:

  • Multiple methods of discovering devices
  • Multiple methods of inventorying devices
  • Could be standalone, part of a systems mgmt product or even an ITAM product
  • Some can also gather data from external sources like AD, Procurement, Cloud, hypervisor, etc.

License mgmt tool:

  • Utilises device discovery and inventory data to obtain a clear picture of its estate
  • Can also use data from other sources, like AD, Procurement, Cloud, hypervisor, etc.
  • May have SW DNA capabilities in order to recognise (office time applications get classed as office products, etc) and then rationalise applications (example: customer has multiple PDF products. Rationalisation would show them which product was dominant in the environment as well if any products were older versions or no longer supported by vendor - sometimes application vulnerabilities are also checked).
  • Vendor license calculations are then run for each commercial product based upon product sku, hw data, virtual env, etc.

Hi Betty-Ann,

Asset discovery is key to getting a baseline of what hardware and software are in your networked environment. The data that is collected through various discovery tools will give you insights to ask some honest questions about how well assets are being managed, but also give you some areas where there are blind spots. Its a great starting point for asset management, but only from a baseline and continued validation that assets are in existence in your environment.

Licensing management is about tracking your license quantities and whether the quantities you purchased does not exceed the agreement limit. If this is the goal, and you don’t have a lot of complexity to the license structure or do not have a lot of publishers you need to track the licenses; I would start with an XL file or SharePoint or something similar.

If you want to go beyond the licensing tracking for true software asset management; which is about cost savings and avoidance, reclamation, audit defense, and perform regular reconciliation, and truly have an effective license positions on your large and complex license structure for better negotiation power, this is a whole different animal. You need to understand your SAM goals before diving into what solution exists that fits with what you require.

Let me know if you have any questions.


Hi Lisa,

We are a big organization with a complex licensing structure. Agree with clear understanding of SAMS goals. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question.

Hi skeatinge,

Thank you for your reply, good stuff.

Could the SW DNA be compared to the DACM technical standard categorization used to standardized/categorize software based on functionality. Currently utilized by Technical Architecture groups to define “look and feel” of enterprise environment.

Related to the calculation functionality, “Vendor license calculations are then run for each commercial product based upon product sku, hw data, virtual env, etc. This calculation would capture # of licenses, usage.”

Would you agree the calculation would also determine over/under utilized license, usage?

Would you know if current licensing tools have robust analytics to interpret Terms and conditions, user rights content from a vendor agreement to determine potential infringement risks?

I look forward to your reply and thank you.

Hi Betty-Ann,

Are you referring to Data Management Capability Assessment Model (DCAM)?

Yes, license compliance includes over/under utilisation calculations.

Master catalogs usually read entitlements and applies all terms, conditions, and use rights for all purchase data. You can use this data to understand your compliance position and identify risks.

Hi Betty-Ann,

The terms you’re asking about, “Asset discovery tool” and “Software licensing management tool,” are commonly used by many people in the global ITAM community to describe the same, or similar, processes (two different processes: “asset discovery” and “license management.”) But they have not been codified by any standards body that I know of, so there are some exceptions in their meanings in certain pockets of our industry.

For instance, when the term first appeared in common use (probably around 1989), “Software license management” (SLM) was used specifically to describe the process that is known today as “software metering.” Then sometime in the 2000s or 2010s, at least one prominent tool vendor adopted the phrase to distinguish the difference between the SAM process of tracking deployment and utilization vs. the broader task of managing a collection of “software entitlements” (typically derived from procurement records) and measuring the “consumption” of those entitlements by product SKU, or SWID, or some other common identifier.

I point this out because, in those corners of the ITAM industry where SLM was adopted to mean something else, the phrase may still be used today to mean that alternate definition. But as both @anon79861909 and @lkreutz point out, the most common uses today are as they described.

I don’t recall any instances when “Asset discovery tool” meant anything other than “sniffing” out a network to locate and identify hardware devices operating on the network. However, there have been many years of parallel development efforts on the Service Management (SM) side of the IT industry that has invested in similar discovery methods. But the SM people tend to identify their products as “Network Discovery” or “Network Mapping” tools. And while the outcomes that the SM teams commonly seek are different than the goals of the AM teams, the processes, at their cores, are essentially identical.

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