Q&A: Microsoft Education G.M. Discusses Request Letters Microsoft Sent to Schools

REDMOND, Wash., April 30, 2002 — Like many software providers, Microsoft often asks its customers to perform a software inventory assessment. This inventory process helps ascertain the customer’s software and licensing needs, enabling them to better manage any issues and work with Microsoft to manage their licenses in a cost-effective way.

This spring, Microsoft sent letters to more than 500 educational institutions in 32 states across the United States, requesting that they perform a software inventory assessment. The last group of letters to be delivered, to school districts in Washington and Oregon, met with angry responses from many customers. Many said their resources were overextended in preparation for the school year’s end. Adding the potentially complex task of a software inventory assessment, they said, was too much to ask at an already busy time.

Sherri Bealkowski, general manager of Microsoft’s Education Solutions Group, says that Microsoft wasn’t sensitive enough to those end of year concerns and offers its apologies to customers concerned about the timing of the request. She says Microsoft has put assessments at those institutions in Oregon and Washington on hold until company representatives can meet with each district individually to identify a timeline that works for them.

“It’s very important to us to have strong partnerships with our education customers,” Bealkowski says. “We do recognize in this particular case that we were not as sensitive as we should have been on timing. But we want to work with these customers individually, to help them not only complete the inventory, but also show them the options available to improve their software asset management. We want to work with them to ensure our request is not an onerous burden.”

Q: How did Microsoft select the institutions that were asked to complete this software inventory assessment?

Bealkowski: As with most other software providers, such an assessment request is a standard business practice, and our customers generally agree that self-audits are the best for them to manage their licenses. We strive to regularly review the purchase history of our customers so we can better understand their technology environment and address the unique needs of their organization. In particular, we try to help customers that may not be aware of all the licensing options available from Microsoft. Some customers may be buying different software or more software, and may not be aware of the different options we offer to help keep licensing administration straight. License administration is a complex task for just about any customer, and education customers in particular because their user base is perpetually changing.

Our experience with educators is that they want to have fully licensed software, and we believe it is our responsibility to help them manage their software assets. Three factors reinforce that responsibility for us: first, many schools have a decentralized structure that can hinder them from managing their technological infrastructure effectively. Second, schools often acquire software through a low-bid procurement process, which can make them a target of vendors who sell them pirated software. Third, many of them rely on donated technologies, where the transfer of licenses to the new owner may not be consistent. Microsoft is committed to helping our education customers proactively identify and rectify potential problems before they grow worse.

Q: Have any of the upset customers asked for leeway in getting the inventory assessment done, at least in terms of a deadline extension?

Bealkowski: A number of schools have contacted us in connection with these requests, and we have worked with them to provide extensions on a case-by-case basis. In Washington and Oregon in particular –the last ones to receive these letters — we’ve now realized we were not sensitive to the timing and resources required at end of school year for them. So we have put our inventory requests on hold for our customers in these states until we can meet with the individual school districts and discuss what would be a reasonable schedule for them.

Q: Wouldn’t an inventory assessment be a drain on the institutions’ money, time and resources anytime, let alone at the end of the school year?

Bealkowski: We definitely know completing a software inventory is a complex job that pulls system administrators away from other duties. And we recognize that the timing of this particular request was poorly chosen. But we and our education customers agree that self audits such as this are the best way for them to manage their licenses. Software-asset management can help institutions manage costs, manage technology change, work more efficiently, and in the cases of many of these educational organizations, justify the investments they’ve already made in technology.

As a company, and as a partner for these customers, we feel a great sense of responsibility to identify cost-effective ways to get such an inventory assessment done. We offer resources to help with the assessment, both online and in terms of onsite professional services from companies who specialize in Software Asset Management.

Q: Why doesn’t Microsoft just come in and do the audit for customers who request it?

Bealkowski: Although we provide our customers with some tools to track and manage their software assets, there are a host of companies who have more extensive experience than we do in helping educational institutions set up software asset-management systems. If schools would like help beyond the tools that are posted at http://www.microsoft.com/licensemanagement/ samguide/ , they can contact their local Microsoft representative who can help them identify a reseller in their area to assist them.

Q: Tracking and managing the various licensing agreements for each software package can’t be a simple task. What do you say to customer institutions that raise that issue?

Bealkowski: We know very clearly that education institutions face special challenges — they have continually changing students, faculty and staff, which makes it really hard to track who’s using what and where. We try very hard to simplify academic volume-licensing subscriptions, to give educators greater choice, and greater flexibility in choosing the right software. And most importantly, we work hard to create licensing programs that are easier to administer — that seems to be where most of the pain is.

We are also open to receiving feedback about our licensing, as we are constantly revising our programs to meet customer needs. We encourage any customers with ideas for how we could make our licensing programs better to contact their Microsoft representative.

Q: Is this assessment request an attempt to get the institutions in question to move to a Campus or School Agreement?

Bealkowski: Not at all. Campus Agreements, which are available to higher education institutions, and School Agreements, available to K-12 institutions, are volume licensing programs that allow education customers to simplify their software acquisition practices. For example, once a year School Agreement lets customers count the computers they have, instead of tracking new users and computers as they are added throughout the school year. Both programs are designed to take the burden off those that have to administer their institution’s licenses. The software inventory assessment request, in contrast, is our way to validate how our customers are using their Microsoft software, and work with them to ensure that they are getting the best return on their technology investment. There have even been some customers who realized they were eligible for a better discount when they reviewed their software inventory.

While Campus and School agreements are great solutions for certain customers, we’ve also worked with hundreds of schools that manage their software without these annuity programs. For schools that are concerned about whether they have the correct licensing, a Campus or School Agreement is one way to help educational institutions manage software purchases in a very cost effective way. We’re not suggesting it’s the best solution for every single customer. If schools want to learn more about either program, they should contact their Microsoft representative so we can help them evaluate if it would be a good option for them. They can also learn more about our licensing options online at http://www.microsoft.com/education/license/ .

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