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Are you suffering from the SAM skills shortage?

by Victoria Barber  |  February 17, 2014  |  8 Comments

I’ve had a number of discussions recently with clients who are trying or planning to recruit Software Asset Managers. Even those who use service providers for much of the SAM support they need often prefer to have some in-house expertise to manage the governance and the relationship with their service provider. However, it turns out that recruiting skilled and experienced SAM professionals isn’t that easy.  Recruiting managers simply can’t find experienced SAM practitioners, and when they do find them they are often too expensive, or simply looking for a stepping stone to more lucrative role.

The significant growth in SAM investment in recent years has meant a huge demand for experienced SAM resources from a limited pool of experienced professionals. This in turn has driven salaries up (no bad thing if you’re on the receiving end of this upward trend!) and meant that for many organisations dedicated resources are becoming unaffordable. IT JobsWatch reports an increase in advertised salaries for Software Asset Managers of 65% for the three months to February 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.

Talking to both clients and recruiters, it seems that salaries are part of the problem. For organisations that use the Hay Job Evaluation methodology or similar to assess salary bands, SAM roles often come out at a lower level than recruiting managers expect. Rather than being a problem with the methodology, this appears to be because HR departments have little or no experience of SAM roles and don’t understand what they involve, so may match them inappropriately based on the data they have.

Sean Robinson, in his article for the ITAM Review ‘How do SAM managers spend their time?’ suggested that “60% of SAM managers spend most of their time on tasks that can be automated today (37% on license reconciliation and 23% on inventory”). This may explain why HR often align SAM with unskilled administrative roles rather than skilled technical or analytical roles.

When creating new job descriptions, its important to emphasize the skills needed to do the job rather than the tasks involved, and to ensure that HR departments that are grading the roles and agreeing salary bands have as much information as possible to help them get this right. Providing details of similar roles advertised with salary details always helps, as does understanding the way that the assessment works and creating a role profile that reflects the value of the job being assessed. Merlin Corp’s 2011 salary survey may be a useful source of supporting data for some roles.

Last year, in response to increasing demand from clients for details of the skills and experience needed within a SAM team, the number of people were needed and how to go about structuring and recruiting a team, I worked with colleagues to publish a couple of job description toolkits. One for ITAM and one for SAM. In creating these job description templates and the supporting material, we focused on encouraging flexibility in solving the resource problems  (for example, many clients may source hard to find expertise from a SAM service provider), and providing material to support their sourcing decisions.

So how are you impacted by the SAM skills shortage, and what tactics have you used to address the problem?



Tags: itam  licence-management  sam  software-asset-management  software-audit  software-compliance  

Victoria Barber
Research Director
4.5 years at Gartner
11 years IT Industry

Victoria Barber is a research director with Gartner's IT Sourcing, Procurement and Asset Management group, specializing in software asset management and software audits. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Are you suffering from the SAM skills shortage?

  1. Alison P says:

    Our system works around Hay but allows for market weighting where appropriate. I agree that accurate descriptions from the start help as does engaging with the key people to get a ‘pre-official score’ which may allow some amendments. Sometimes it is about wording rather than actual content. My institute provides sample JDs but not many managers seem to use them to help construct their own descriptions.

  2. Paul Davis says:

    Hi Victoria

    Which recruiters did you speak to? I am intrigued as your information is not far from being diametrically opposed to the advice I give via my user group Licensing and SAM which now has in excess of 4000 members who are strictly industry professionals.

    HR are a necessary part of the recruitment process and as i have been recruiting purely in Licensing and SAM for the past seven years I would like to believe that I understand the process and protocols involved.

    It is fair to say that most Software Vendors do not understand SAM as it is so extremely specialist and therefore the idea of putting HR in control of writing Job Descriptions and setting salary is something I feel only adds an extra layer of uneducated decision making.To back this up, I could quote you 70% of the specialists in this area who state “do not go via HR, come direct to me (the CEO or Technical Director) in the first instance”.

    I think that using Hay to decide what people get paid is risky, if the role is well established and there is a healthy pool of experts to rely upon, the history very much helps to decide the future and therefore Hay is beneficial. The biggest fact you seem to have overlooked in your blog is that the salary increase in the past twelve months is predominantly due to Microsoft changing the focus of their Licensing Sales Partners, the clue is in the name change – LAR’s are now LSP’s and the way they are rewarded is much more heavily focused on Licensing Solutions. Therefore to have a solution, the End User needs to start with an ELP (Effective Licensing Position) which needs to be done by a SAM expert. We are then simply confronted with a standard supply and demand scenario.Thanks for making reference to my Salary Survey in 2011 but sadly this is massively out of date.

    Salaries are like water at the moment ie they are self levelling.

    Is there a shortage of people with SAM skills? Yes at the entry (audit) level, however any End User wishing to bring the service in-house will find plenty of middle management who are able to learn the process from a decent Managed Service Provider (avoid certain companies) such that after the process is in place for SAM Strategy, the process can be replicated and adhered to.

    I hope that the people who read your blog are not put off following a necessary evil (SAM) and more importantly, I hope that they consult SAM MSP’s or people who are able to offer experienced feedback.

    Anyone interested in learning more about the trials and tribulations of getting involved in SAM should join in on the webinar that MerlinCorp is holding specifically for End Users where this issue is openly discussed in a forum that focuses on sharing good and bad experiences. Naming and shaming is actively encouraged and “grow your own” is a topic to be covered extensively.

  3. Victoria Barber says:

    Thanks for your extensive response Paul. Unfortunately I can’t tell you which recruiters I’ve spoken to, as all discussions with clients are confidential. But I can assure you that I speak to many organisations, both end-users and recruiters acting on their behalf.

    I am certainly not advocating putting HR ‘in charge’ of writing job descriptions. That’s a manager’s job. But for the majority of recruiting managers, it has to be done within the constraints of the organisation’s existing templates, competency frameworks and policy. Making profitable use of assets is an essential business skill, not a necessary evil. Clients involve HR in recruitment the same way they should involve the SAM in licensing, not to write license agreements or job specs but as the appropriate authority to engage the right expertise.

    I’m not sure that I understand the relevance of your statement that ‘most Software Vendors do not understand SAM’ , as it is very unlikely that many organisations will be asking their software vendors for input into their SAM recruitment process.

    The toolkits we provide are designed to give recruiting managers some guidance as to how to put together an appropriate job description that can be used within these constraints. Many managers have no choice but to follow organisational processes that use the Hay methodology, and as I suggest, and Alison points out, where Hay does not have comparable roles, it is up to the recruiting manager to work with HR to ensure that the job description provides the appropriate information to allow accurate scoring and that evidence of comparable roles and salaries is also available to HR to help in the decision-making.

    It’s great to hear a recruitment consultant telling end-user organizations not to recruit SAM expertise because they can hire it. But that’s exactly where our middle management clients are feeling this SAM skills shortage most acutely, in the lack of skilled Managed Service Providers to help them. In our experience, ELPs aren’t always proving as effective as they should be in defending clients against license audits. Clients who run virtualization, cloud or BYOD or cloud may find them even less effective.

    Whether SAMs can engage that expertise externally is answered by you in your point that Microsoft engages resellers as license solution providers, not the end-user organization: He who pays the piper calls the tune! I’m sure our readers would be interested to hear more from you on those managed service providers they should avoid, if you’d care to share the details.

  4. Alan Plastow says:

    I my experience, the actual shortage of skilled SAMs is more a function of the organizations that provide SAM certification training If people are not being trained to meet the need, the need will go unfulfilled.

    Both our suppliers & our practitioners have the same major competency blind spot in common: the breadth & depth of SAM training are both sub-standard when compared to other professional practitioner preparation.

    The original foundation SAM & ITAM training programs I developed in the late 90s (and the programs derived from that baseline) have barely moved beyond the levels of quality existent in 2004.

    For the most part, SAM training remains the domain of the software industry & their enforcement buddies. A majority of SAM certifications remain primarily focused on compliance, rather than in-depth management & control. SAM programming is virtually ALL proprietary in nature, without any significant matching of training content. Even our global standards are more a function of who can afford to sit on the standards body committees than on what’s genuinely happening on the front lines. What’s more, our definitions of SAM are more focused on toeing the compliance line than on crafting & maintaining clear control over the entire SAM environment.

    While several SAM certification programs (about 1/5 of those available), continue to deliver basic life cycle management factors, those factors have NOT kept up with demand for specific skills. Since I stepped away from the SAM certification industry, I have been following the lack of progression in the training environment and it’s pitiful – again, when compared to other professions such as IT auditing & project management.

    I’ve reviewed more than 370 SAM job listings in the past dozen years & can clearly state that a majority of certified SAMs simply do not match up with employer requirements. Even those who “require” (X)SAM or (Y)SAM certification continue to describe a candidate who was not prepared by either of those certifications to fill the job roles & responsibilities. They’re using the job descriptions simply because they are the only ones available – not because they’re correct.

    Until we bring practitioner qualifications in line with deliverables realities, the “profession” of SAM will continue to be equated with a “slightly advanced clerical worker”, one with IT skills – and the pay & respect levels will remain closely matched..

  5. Cary King says:

    After being responsible for more than 400 implementations of IT Service and Asset Management the problem of staffing never seems to abate.

    Asset Management, and SAM subset, are data intensive jobs.

    it seems to me that, half, and often more of the budget is spent on Assets. Complete and accurate data is fundamental to developing trust of the “rest of the business” in IT’s effort to demonstrate Value for Money.

    This requires individuals be brought “on and off the bus” that understand how to do effective business process reengineering so that processes can be built to achieve that goal.

    Another part of the job is continual analysis and cleaning of data.

    IT might wish to consider redefining the business risks associated with proactive SAM controls and benefits of coordinated ITFiPAM.

    I apprehend that many organizations severely underestimate the capabilities of the technology alone to deliver accurate data – particularly when the checkpoint process control points are not effectively designed and consistently executed.

  6. […] ← Are you suffering from the SAM skills shortage? […]

  7. […] will behind it and that this interest may result in more investment. Obviously there is still the skills shortage issue to address, but as SAM investment (in people and process as well as technology) grows so, […]

  8. Victoria, I thought your blog readers might find our recent 2014 salary survey useful. In particular it shows a definitive shift from ITAM being a financial / audit role to embedded within Service Management.

    More details here:

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