It takes a concerted effort to implement a successful Software Asset Management (SAM) program, but there is one ingredient that is so critical to success that I wouldn’t want to see anyone launch a SAM initiative without it.

It’s true that a well-designed SAM program needs good data and carefully selected indicators. But the one thing that every SAM program needs above all? High-level executive support.

SAM Programs and Executive Leadership: Make or break

Executive support is the main catalyst for creating partnerships that will drive the SAM agenda. From the Chief Technology Officer to the Chief Financial Officer, the senior leadership in an organization needs to buy in to the SAM program and what it aims to achieve. Securing that buy-in up front, and maintaining it through implementation, can mean the difference between making measurable business improvements and creating an exercise that feels more like pulling teeth. It does this by opening the lines of communication, and setting the expectations for collaboration.

Exposing the risk

At the outset, briefing senior leaders on the drivers for your SAM program lays the foundation for greater transparency throughout an organization. There’s a tendency in some organizations to shelter senior leaders from unpleasant discussions, especially about risks that haven’t yet been realized. As well, working-level staff don’t always recognize that they need help.

But if there is a looming compliance audit that could result in substantial financial penalties, CFOs and CIOs alike need to have a contingency plan. Unforecasted fines can have a profound negative impact on the entire business operations of a company, all the way down to its ability to deliver products and services to its customers. Securing senior level buy-in early in the process allows everyone to engage in that planning.

Rallying the troops

Despite all the benefits that a SAM program brings to an organization, good SAM practices still disrupt — and in some cases, fundamentally change — how people go about their day-to-day business, because SAM is all about imposing order in a chaotic world of software. In truth, implementing a SAM program often makes a lot of people really unhappy, at least in the short-term. As a matter of good governance, this is something senior leaders need to know about.

Seeing that senior management supports the initiative is a critical step in fostering a culture of collaboration. However, management can’t support what it doesn’t know about. When employees see that their management team is behind the direction, they are more likely to get on board themselves, and contribute their own ideas and support. An executive sponsor or champion can also play the role of chief negotiator to create win-win situations where the SAM program creates the order, and the partnering departments understand how this will help them do their work more efficiently.

Showing the money

Securing executive support is also critical to acquiring the financial and human resources you need to implement a SAM program, both within and outside the company’s IT shop. A fully developed SAM program touches on all the key functions in an organization: end users, hiring managers, supply chain managers, finance officers, engineers, as well as IT support staff.

A unified message from the senior leadership team is the catalyst for real collaboration, by mobilizing everyone who needs to contribute. And given the long-term savings that a robust SAM program can generate, a fully engaged CFO can be the biggest champion of all.

Communicating the path to success

This doesn’t mean that SAM programs are top-down exercises. Real success requires both grassroots and executive support, and communication needs to flow both ways. Overall, though, the executive team needs to well informed by its team, so that it can provide clear direction on the path forward. Communications from the executive leadership should always explain why the change is happening (and the risk of not doing so), and should solicit meaningful input from those who will be affected.

That executive leadership, built on communication and collaboration, is the number one ingredient for success.