Microsoft License Tracking Tool Raises Few Worries

The Web-based tool, dubbed Customer Connection Center (C3) and announced in mid-December, is intended to help business customers keep track of their licensed software. It is currently in beta in the United States and the United Kingdom. Betas are also planned for Germany and France.

Microsoft said C3 is not a license-enforcement tool but a way to match "underdeployed" customers with a solution provider or reseller that can help them make use of software they have purchased but not deployed. By clicking on the Web-based tool, customers can "see where they are in their overall license position--[it's like] a licensing bank statement," said John Lauer, a vice president in Microsoft's Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partner Group.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is working hard on this issue because "shelfware" has been a time bomb for the company when it comes to re-signing customers to volume deals and Software Assurance.

Resellers that offer software asset management services acknowledged the tool aims to handle some services they already provide, but most said it poses no threat to their model.

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"On one side of the coin, yes, [license tracking] is in part what we do for a customer, but we also see it as a possible benefit to our business," said Chris Sharpe, vice president of business development at SoftMart, a large-account reseller (LAR) in Downingtown, Pa. "Until we see a version of this we're not sure exactly how it'll affect us. But I think it could speed up the sales cycle and help customers make the best purchase."

Harry Zoberman, vice president of marketing and operations at ASAP Software, a LAR in Buffalo Grove, Ill., said small and midsize customers may use C3 to assess their Microsoft software, but they also need a tool that handles their entire software inventory. Customers also prefer working with an independent adviser that can provide them with objective guidance rather than a vendor's point of view, he said. Microsoft is also working on another tool to help customers assess their standing vs. their peers in "overall IT readiness," Lauer said. That tool, code-named DaVinci, could show manufacturers a problem with the cost of goods sold or why their inventory turns are slow. The results of the tracking then could be passed to a solution provider with expertise in that market, he added.

C3 and DaVinci sound promising, but C3 only emulates a portion of what LARs already do--from a Microsoft-only slant, said Nick Foster, vice president of marketing at SoftChoice, a solution provider in Toronto.

"C3 only gives customers a view of what Microsoft thinks they're entitled to," he said. "It doesn't tell them about what's running in their environment."

Microsoft's software tracking efforts have been "limited out of the gate," said one LAR who requested anonymity. "It's not something I'm overly concerned about, but it's nothing I can ignore either."