The value and accuracy of software usage information
Paul Burke

The value and accuracy of software usage information



There are many references to the fact that a significant proportion of deployed software on enterprise desktops is rarely or never used.  Centrix experience indicates that some £300 or $500 worth software is unused on the typical enterprise desktop.  Across 100 million desktops in the enterprise space this represents a staggering £30B or $50B in deployed but unused software. 

Given this colossal amount of waste you would think there would be a great deal of focus on identifying and eradicating this waste.  The reality is that the majority of enterprises do not have standard processes in place to recover unused software and re-use those valuable licenses.  They simply buy more licences.  This achieves compliance but at a high cost.  Further, this continued over-provisioning of unused software adds significant costs to projects such a migrations to Microsoft Windows 7.

Measuring usage of software

Some organizations try to measure usage by asking their users in surveys and personal interviews.  This is an expensive and inaccurate way to determine the usage of software.  Users broadly take the view that obtaining the software in the first place required a good deal of time and effort so they do not want to have to repeat this for already acquired software so they significantly over-estimate the usage of their installed software.

Some organizations rely on the data provided by a wide range of asset management and monitoring solutions.  These rely extensively on the “last used on” date recorded by Microsoft Windows.  However the “Last used” details recorded by Microsoft Windows are often blank or inaccurately recorded. 

In Windows XP, the “Last used” date was derived by trying to match the launched executable name to the registered packages listed in “Add/ Remove programs” in control panel via a name match with the shortcuts listed in the Start menu.  The matching was often unsuccessful resulting in no update to the “last used” date.  If users launched applications as a result of double clicking on a document then the process was less successful.

In Windows Vista, the process for identifying “last used” was much the same

In Windows 7, the process has been changed to rely on installed applications registering themselves with Windows installer shortcuts.  This allows a more accurate measurement of the last used date as long as application installers are fully Windows Installer compliant.  Unfortunately the majority of software packages are not and Microsoft is not enforcing this requirement. 

The result of all this is the “last used” date is not recorded in many cases and is sometime recorded inaccurately where the matching algorithm in XP and Vista guesses wrongly. 

Try this test in Windows 7:

Open the “Programs and Features” UI from Control panel.  Right-click on the header title bar and select “More” from the context menu.  Select the “Last used on” entry in the list and enable the check box.  This will add the display of the “Last used” date to the UI of “Programs and Features”.  Now view the field and count the number of entries that are filled out.  It is not unusual to see something like this:


The risks of relying on “Last used”

As “Last used” is so unreliable there are number of risks this brings to reducing software waste based on this:

·         Simply not knowing is software is used or not leads to a clear inability to reduce installed software footprint and realise savings.

·         Where the last used date is inaccurately recorded this can lead to either removing software that is actually used by users and/or not removing unused software.  Both have significant negative consequences for businesses.

Accurate recording of usage details

So if the current available methods are all fraught with error and risk, what can you do?  Although Microsoft Windows does not have great abilities to record usage information itself, this data can be captured by using third party solutions.  Centrix Software built Workspace iQ for the specific purpose of enabling enterprises to identify and eradicate software waste. 

We DO NOT rely on “Last used” data for this purpose.  We accurately record the rich details of usage history using an agent-based data capture infrastructure.  This allows us to not only tell an organization when the last time an application was used, but to also indicate the complete usage patter for each and every user using every application on every device.  This wealth of detail removes the risks and issues of relying on “Last used” dates. 

For more details and to further understand the complete value of proper usage metering, contact sales@centrixsoftware.com

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