Is software licensing a viable market for consultants?

Tracking software licenses can be a big headache for your clients. But before you offer to shoulder the burden, do your research and be aware of what you're getting into.

As consultants, we’ve all been exposed to the burden and administrative hassle of tracking software licenses, which can range from simple product boxes on a shelf to complex custom applications.

This process can be especially hard on a client that is less familiar with licensing. In many cases, the individual programs are simple enough to handle, but when a client has to wade through half a dozen such programs to ensure that all their corporate applications, utilities, and access to network services are licensed, the whole exercise can be very frustrating. They may then turn to their trusted consultant to take up their licensing burden.

If you’re exploring the possibility of maintaining software licenses for your clients, follow these preparatory steps to ensure that you can provide the increased convenience and reduced costs your clients are looking for.

Laying the groundwork
If you plan to add software licensing to your firm’s service offerings, you’ll have to do some preliminary groundwork:
  1. Look at the products your existing clients use, and choose which licenses you will handle. The obvious ones are network and desktop operating systems, office automation systems, antivirus applications, and possibly more departmental applications like CAD packages. “Line of business” (or ERP) systems are often likely to be handled by the software house or consultancy that implemented them.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the licensing requirements and options available for those products. Collect literature on the programs or keep links to resources you can refer to when needed; you might also use these resources to justify any recommendations you provide to the client later on.
  3. Find out whether the chosen vendors have partner programs that will give you support in recommending the correct licensing products for your clients. Microsoft, for example, offers the Certified Solution Provider (soon to be the Microsoft Certified Partner) program, and Norton also has a range of partner programs available. Depending on the program you join, you may receive access to pre-sales support, preferential purchase rates, and/or marketing materials. Just be sure that you’ll receive adequate rewards for paying the fee to join the program.
  4. Finally, if you want to be involved in the sale of the license product, you will need to establish a relationship with either the software vendor’s sales team or suppliers, who can make the products available to you at competitive prices. Check your competitors’ price levels before you submit your quote. (If your business is primarily service-based, this may be an unfamiliar step, as prices for commodities like licenses perhaps change more frequently than your service rates.)

The money factor
Before you start a licensing exercise with your client, you should also determine how you’ll benefit from offering this service. In my experience, software licenses are seen as commodities, which means they are very price-sensitive. If you’re doing the purchasing, that price may yo-yo frequently.

It may be that you and your client could agree on a charge for the ongoing management and administration of the licensing burden with regular reviews, which might be a worthwhile service for a client with a complex licensing requirement.

The benefit may not, however, be measured on a purely financial basis. For example, as a favor to a new client, I reviewed their software licenses at no charge, and won a contract as a result. On the flip side, my firm recently lost the sale of antivirus licenses for a new client to a pure reseller in the antivirus software vendor’s partner program.

Taking on the task of software licensing for your clients can lead your firm to another valuable revenue stream. You’re likely to find success if the service you provide takes the unnecessary burden away from your clients, and also provides them with the actual license at a competitive price.

David Parkinson is a principal consultant for Control Key Ltd, in the North West of England.

Do you offer to maintain your clients’ software licenses? Is this a worthwhile task for consulting firms? Post a comment below or send us a note.

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