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The ITAM insider: Unlocking software assets

Express Over Espresso

Episode 29


34 minutes

Luis Ward is an Air Force veteran from Panama, married but with no kids or pets.

He is a passionate traveler, sports enthusiast (particularly Formula 1, soccer – supporting Austin FC and Manchester City, and baseball – cheering for the Houston Astros), and an accomplished ITAM professional. With a background as a former consultant, he currently serves as the Director of Software Asset Management at Paramount, where he excels in reducing software spend, consolidating portfolios, and promoting ITAM best practices. His life is a dynamic tapestry of diverse experiences and unwavering dedication.

Podcast transcript

Khushboo: Hi, Luis. Welcome to our podcast. How are you this morning? 

Luis: Hi, I’m doing very well. How about yourself? 

Khushboo: I am doing great. Couldn’t be better. It’s been a very good week for me. So pretty exciting. 

Luis: Yeah, I’m very excited to do this. Thank you for having me and talking with me about this. It’s a really exciting opportunity to be able to do this with you. 

Khushboo: Yeah, same here. I’m super excited as well to talk to you about all things software asset management and other things that you are passionate about. So let’s get started here. And why don’t we start with your background a little bit. Tell us your story. Like, where were you born and raised? What was childhood like for you? And what are your family dynamics? 

Luis: Yeah, so I was born in Brooklyn, New York. My parents are both from Panama. So I am a first generation born American citizen. And we moved around a little bit because my dad was in the Navy and went from Brooklyn, New York, San Diego. And ultimately, my dad got out of the Navy in Corpus Christi, Texas. And so that was, you know, for me and my three siblings at the time, it was very, very fun to grow up and be near the water and be on the beach. 

Eventually, my dad took us over the bridge, which is, there’s a bridge in Corpus Christi called the Harbor Bridge, which is a very big port city, and went to a smaller town called Portland, Texas. And that’s where, you know, the rest of my siblings were born, you know, and we were raised, grew up and just enjoyed being on the water, played a lot of sports and tried to entertain ourselves as best as possible. 

My family was pretty religious and my dad being Navy was, you know, pretty strict, but it was a time where we could still just be a family and enjoy ourselves and really just learn all about, you know, being silly kids and finding ways to entertain ourselves. And you know, we might by no means had a lot of money growing up, but you know, my dad and my mom, you know, made the best of the situations and always were able to provide for us. 

You know, that’s one of the things that kind of leads me to talking about, you know, where I found just myself being very curious around computers and how they worked and really just kind of trying to entertain ourselves. So even being there growing up, you know, in Portland, found ourselves participating in sports a lot where we could. My dad was a very strict person on, if you didn’t pass your school studies, you know, we couldn’t play. 

So whether that was playing in high school and junior high sports or in the younger years playing with our friends outside and just trying to entertain ourselves in a small town, it was a very, very strict way of make sure you get your studies done and your homework done before you go out and do any other activities. So that was something that, you know, work hard mentality was something that was ingrained in me from a very young age. 

Khushboo: Awesome. So while growing up, what made you choose technology as your career path? And I know you’ve also been an Air Force veteran. So how did that shift to what you’re doing today? So tell us some story about your career path from how you started, what got you inspired to be in the Air Force and also like to shift that to technology. 

Luis: Yeah. So it started, you know, kind of like I mentioned just briefly a little while ago around being inquisitive and, you know, around computers and really my dad got a Tandy 1000, I think maybe while I was 10 or 11 years old, kind of dating myself here, but you know, that’s fine. The Tandy 1000 was like a shoulder sold at a radio shack and my dad got that and brought it home. And I find myself just looking at this computer, wondering what it could do and how it ran and reading into the, some of the manuals and found myself at the back of one of the manuals and learning how to do programming. 

I think that was basic was the programming language that they put out there in the back of the book. And, you know, you enter some commands and some, some code and, you know, up pops some, some different graphics, you know, whether it be like a picture of a house or something like that and all kinds of other things that it would allow you to do. So that was one of the, kind of the first thing that got me very interested in computers at that time. 

And then of course, you know, video games started around and I was just super happy to be able to like play games and, you know, that was just a fascinating technology at the time. So after doing that for a couple of years, eventually, you know, my dad got a new, pure newer computer and this one has some more features in it and I found myself just being able to quickly open up the actual computer itself, the case finders, you know, the components inside of it and just kind of wondering what it was. 

Funny story. I was able to look at the motherboard finding, you know, what the modem was and learning what the modem was and learning that, Hey, you could actually take your telephone cord and plug it into the back of this computer and I helped him call somebody. So, you know, that was something that I thought was so neat for me at that time. It was just kind of mind blowing to be able to dial in to, you know, dial on the computer and call somebody up and talk to them. 

That was one of the first things that got me really going further into computers. So after that, you know, I went off to college and then, you know, about a year and a half moved over and decided, you know, college at the, at that time was, you know, not really something I was calling the best for me. 

So I went into the air force and that’s whenever I got into computers, they really needed some computer operators in the air force. And I was able to go through and spend four years at Cheyenne Mount air station and NORAD in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

Khushboo: Okay. That’s very interesting. And so what I know, like you started your career in 2004, if, if I know it correctly in IT operations and fast forward today, like you are director of software asset management at Paramount. Now, if I have to ask you in this journey and in this career path, what would be one or two examples of your biggest wins that you feel very proud of? Like something that you call sheer accomplishments in your career? 

Luis: Yeah. Good question. I think for me coming from after the air force and trying to find my way to my career path into software asset management, it was kind of a winding road. I started first as a desktop technician in Austin, Texas. After I got out of the air force, went straight to Austin, started as a desktop technician, found myself kind of laid off after a couple of different jobs, just because of the market at that time, you know, the dot-com era was going on or we’re getting laid off. It seemed like left and right. And you know, and I, and I suffered and found myself then deciding I was going to go back to school. 

I wanted to get out of IT completely, to be honest. I thought, you know, that’s just probably wasn’t what was going to be on career paths for me and went to school, I went back to college and finished up. After graduating, I got an opportunity to interview at a banking institution here in the Austin area, which is no longer here, but you know, I got the opportunity to go work there and eventually interviewed for an opportunity as a software asset manager. 

That was really kind of my start to get into software asset management from a desktop kind of background. I’m forever grateful to the lady that actually provided me that opportunity. And so when I was able to get into software asset management and it started around 2009, really it was just kind of soak up everything that I could learn about software asset management all the way up until, you know, currently today. 

But over that time, you know, I think one of the biggest successes I feel I’ve had is, you know, learning from a lot of people and eventually being able to parlay that into a multi-million dollar savings for one organization whenever I was helping them to implement some software asset management best practices to save, have some savings around one of the big publishers that are out there that really have a lot of audits and, you know, history that will cause people nightmares for lack of a better term. 

So that was a big win for me, just being able to implement those best practices, show what some reviews of contracts and forensic analysis of your environment can do to drive out some additional savings and cost avoidance in the organization. I’ve also done some smaller savings opportunities, you know, and this is around just by looking into the details and making sure that, you know, the contracts and the way that the environment and software has been deployed are in accordance with the terms and conditions of those specific publishers. So that’s one of the biggest wins or some of the biggest wins through that multi-million dollar savings that I’ve been able to provide to organizations. 

Khushboo: That’s amazing. That’s really good and kudos to you to be able to achieve that. And now that we’re talking about the biggest wins, I also want to touch upon the failure aspect to it. So we’ve all failed at some point or the other. So if I have to ask you to bring up your stories on your most epic failures on this episode today, and how did you bounce back from that failure, what would those stories be? 

Luis: So, yeah, epic failures, you know, I feel like I know I have definitely one of them. I’ve had many failures for sure. I will say maybe one of them I would touch on two of them here. One that comes to mind is during a moment where I was offered the opportunity to work on delivering a managed service offering for a company that I worked with. And it took about six, maybe seven of us to get together and go overseas to London and sit in the room and drive out the new service offering that we could go to market with around software asset management and how we would provide this service. 

After about two weeks, maybe 10, 10, 14 days, somewhere around there, we came up with a strategy and a plan and offering and that to leadership and leadership seemed receptive to it. But I think where I consider the failure is that it didn’t stick around too long. We ended up having to kind of dice out a lot of what we came up with. So for me, I felt like spending so much time coming up with that, only to kind of see it kind of chopped up a little bit more was it felt like a failure to me just because when I look back at it, yeah, I thought we had maybe too many people of the same mindset in there. 

And it was a chance for us to kind of really do something big that would have hit hard with everybody within the organization and as an offering to clients who seem to desperately need some software asset management help and assistance. And it felt like it was a little bit of a failure to me. But what I learned is that as I took that board to really look for those opportunities to have people with different mindsets, backgrounds that can maybe bring some different points of view to a project such as what we were doing or into a team or to any other decisions, maybe conversations that we have in our everyday lives. 

So that’s definitely one right there that I would say that I deem to myself as a failure, but something I’ve definitely learned to take away from that as an opportunity to do better the next go round. 

Khushboo: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for bringing that up. And now I want to talk about your professional expertise a little bit. So you mentioned you are and you mentioned this to me in your previous conversation with me that you are a passionate ITAM professional who thrives on opportunities to reduce organization software spend and also consolidate software portfolio and promote ITAM best practices. So tell me a little more about that in this episode. Like, how do you go about it? And how can others also start thinking in those lines? 

Luis: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, I would say I’ll start with this for anybody that’s not really familiar with what software asset management or SAM is, you know, it’s a collection of policies and processes that help manage the software through its lifecycle. So from requesting software to the acquisition of the software, to deployment of software, all the way to its retirement. 

There’s a bunch of different stages within that lifecycle that a software product can go through. So in addition to that, you know, it’s about managing the software portfolio and finding those opportunities to optimize on your software investment and then also to manage that software spend. So, again, looking at different terms and conditions of the products and the publishers to maximize that opportunity and leverage that purchase that you’ve had. And I really I’m so passionate about ITS management because it really gives a chance to work with many people across an organization. 

So what I consider stakeholders, because we all want to have a type of win-win scenario when we go into any kind of cross-functional engagement or project. So for me, I really see that as an opportunity to see what I can do for the stakeholders, then provide these insights that I’ve been able to gather over the years of being in software asset management and showcase what a SAM program can do. And that is by showing, you know, here’s some sets of data that I’ve been able to collect utilizing some software asset management tools. In this case, you know, we Paramount use ServiceNow SAM Pro, and I’m able to gather some data from different sources, whether it’s providing different users, users who use a particular product, users, how much they’re using it. 

We’re able to integrate into SaaS application portals to bring in SaaS consumption or users data, and then also be able to look into what I think is even bigger right now and on everybody’s mind is around cloud spend, right? So how can we, you know, manage cloud spend? And because everybody’s going to be using cloud, there are many different opportunities to optimize on the data center utilization, and then also leveraging any of the existing contracts that you might have with different publishers. 

So that’s something I’m really passionate about. I can spend hours, you know, talking with other SAM professionals and geeking out about it. You know, when I get the opportunity to do that, it’s really enjoyable for me. I know my wife, whenever I talk about anything software asset management related, her eyes kind of rolling back of her head, but you know. 

And everybody will go, what is that? What are you talking about? And I find it kind of surprising that not more people really understand what software asset management is and how much more it is. It’s not just managing, you know, software licenses and that’s it. You can go really deep and it really has a really particular space within the IT organization and the organization as a whole. Perfect. So talking about your interaction with all these software asset management geeks and community, how do you stay close knitted with this community? Like, are there any groups or conferences? 

Like, how do you meet them socially and just kind of share and learn from one another and give back to the community in a way? Yeah. I know for me, you know, one of the ways I kind of stay in contact is through LinkedIn. And this has really just been through the networking that I’ve had with previous organizations where I work, working with people in the same industry, staying in contact with them, reaching out just to ask a question around, Hey, how are you guys tackling a particular situation scenario? Attending conferences. 

I was able to attend my first ServiceNow Knowledge Conference this past year. You know, we had a couple of years where it was virtual that I did attend, but, you know, first of all, you know, in person, I was able to attend, which was fantastic. And then joining different groups, right? So there’s a lot of different groups out there that are happy and eager to share webinars that can provide additional insights. 

And there’s so many brilliant people that actually do this day in, day out and really provide a forum for SAM professionals and IT asset management professionals as well. And when I say ITAM, I’m talking about hardware and software asset management and all kind of glued together because really you have to have both of them to have a successful program. So that’s how I’ve stayed in contact, you know, former clients, former colleagues from different consulting engagements and just really kind of LinkedIn and chats is how I’ve been able to stay connected and, you know, at any opportunity I get to talk about, you know, software asset management, I’ll do that. And this is kind of one of my first opportunities to really kind of give back into the community and a long time, you know, in this forum. So again, thank you for having me. 

Khushboo: Yeah, for sure. And yeah, I know knowledge, like I think a similar story for me. This was my first last year after the COVID gap and it was amazing. It was so amazing to just be there, meet and network with people in the same space, learn, and also get a direction on where ServiceNow is heading. It’s a great platform and it’s always good to see how they are evolving and taking technology into peace, like talking about gen AI stuff and all with the ServiceNow platform. 

Luis: Amazing. Yes. Yeah. So many different people and different opportunities to just listen to how, for me, I always like to see what the software asset management aspect can tie in and just even thinking, you know, how can, you know, generative AI or, you know, using, you know, the buzzword, you know, phrase chat GPT, you know, product of the day can be can be leveraged in my day to day, you know, I’m looking for some of those use cases and I write some things down, you know, how maybe that might be able to be leveraged and within the SAM space. 

So, you know, something I’m haven’t really dived too deep, too deep into, but, you know, I’m just kind of looking at the new use cases where I think first before I actually try to go put my foot into that water, but there’s some really good opportunities for it to listen to other people. And, you know, I sat on some really, really neat sessions at Knowledge around software asset management and AI and just really, really neat stuff that’s on the horizon. 

Khushboo: Right, 100%. So staying on the current topic of software asset management, if I ask, if I have to ask you, like, what are some of the common challenges that organizations face in implementing SAM practices? And also, like, how do you address that? 

Luis: Yeah, I think one of the biggest challenges is just data collection and really data integrity. There are so many disparate systems out there for which you can collect the data. So what are the actual devices that are out there, whether it be end user devices or data center devices, switches, you know, and routers, you know, what particular piece of the software might be on them, you know, but just from even just the data center and user standpoint, you know, it’s very difficult sometimes to pull that data in. 

And then as you pull that data in, try to gather the resources or stakeholders that can help you to kind of parse through that data to understand what might be relevant or not relevant, what might be stale data or not stale data. So just trying to gather that is a big challenge. And then also within the entitlement space or your software licenses space, that can be a challenge as well. The thing I would say now on how to overcome that is really just a, you know, it’s a matter of slicing that up a little bit, right? So we’re not looking at the whole pie, rather, let’s just take a small chunk or a, you know, common phraseology is don’t boil the ocean, right? 

So really just taking that middle aspect. So we look at end user computers. So let’s focus on that first. Let’s just look at what we can collect, whether it’s data from SCCM or another inventory source that we can pull that data in. And then just going through that with a, you know, making sure that the data points that you’re looking for are there, having those identified and planning ahead of time, right, is a good start to make sure that you’re not finding yourself overwhelmed and not finding ourselves wondering, hey, I got this new fancy tool, but, you know, this is not working. And I’ll take some careful planning and having somebody with the experience to help you along the way. 

Khushboo: Right. And you brought a very interesting point around data protection. And it’s really important. It’s key to so many organizations to make sure that it’s compliance with the software licensing. So just if I have to ask, like, how do you ensure compliance with software licensing and agreements and prevent any potential risks for your organization? So how do you go about that? 

Luis: Yeah. And that is, that’s a great question. And one that we all probably spend a lot of time on talking. But the one thing that I would say that is needed is just to make sure that, one, that you’re speaking with your info security team. You’re talking with your data center team. You’re talking with your end user team about what it is that you’re looking to gather at where it’s going to be stored. 

The different software asset management tools out there do a good job of protecting that data if you’re storing it in the cloud. And I know that from the standpoint of what we gather paramount, you know, we make sure that we store that data, you know, in a secure location. It’s not for all ICCs. We lock down the data to make sure that it’s not just opened up for everybody to be able to see on the platform. Right. 

So whether it’s the security roles that we have on the system is one of the ways we can, you know, look to protect that data. And we’re not sending that data over to different publishers, right? You know, just as soon as they ask for some kind of data, you know, we work with the different stakeholders and the different teams within our organization before we send any data. 

Khushboo: Got it. And just curious, like with the increasing use of cloud-based software and subscription models, how does SAM adapt to these changes in the software industry particularly? 

Luis: Yeah, and another something else here is, again, you have to look at it from a partnership standpoint. We’re not trying to say no. We’re not trying to say don’t use this. It’s really how can we help you manage that software spend? And yes, it is subscription. And everybody says like, well, I pay for the subscription. Okay. Right. I don’t need to worry about license. You know, well, we’re really trying to focus and change, you know, from a mindset of, well, how does this help me manage that, right? 

You know, there’s so many different implementations I’ve done over the years where, you know, there will be, yeah, user XYZ gets access to a particular piece of software, but then, you know, they leave the organization. Well, user XYZ still has access to that particular piece of software, whether it be subscription SaaS, you know, whatever. And they still have access to it. 

You know, and that’s one, that’s a huge security risk. And two, that’s overspending. And you take that one example and multiply that by hundreds or thousands, you know, you have that what’s called, you know, the overspend. That’s not necessary. And even if it’s not looking at it from a user standpoint, if we look at it from a device standpoint, that also is, you know, again, overspend.

So how can we manage that spend? How can we scale that? How can we make sure that there’s a process that is followed to help vent that overspend? That’s over, and it may be sometimes on the underspend side, really, but a lot of it is around overspend and making sure that, you know, there is a process in place that’s followed, that can be followed. 

And then also one that’s advantageous for the requesters of software or data center software to get that as quickly as possible. So once we have a process that can do that for them, I think it’s beneficial and you see a good pivot to where people can see the value of a software asset management program and how it can lend a hand in software spend, or sorry, cloud spend. 

Khushboo: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. If individuals are interested in a career in software asset management, what piece of advice would you give them? And what skills are essential for success in this field, according to you? 

Luis: Great question. And I would say that I feel like I would, you know, most SAM professionals would say, well, you’ve got to be part crazy. Because there’s so much that goes into being a software asset manager that, you know, it can take you in so many different directions and down some deep rabbit holes to one, find data, find, you know, those cost savings, certain cost avoidance, and really dives you deep into getting actually the good knowledge of the organization in which you work at. 

Because again, as I said, it sprawls, it touches so many, it touches almost every area of the organization is its software. And so you’re really trying to understand where that software is, who’s using it, how they’re using it. And, you know, some occasions why, and maybe there’s an alternative that you could use. But I would say to anybody that wants to get into software asset management, you know, you need to have an understanding of IT as a whole. 

So understanding what servers are, what are processors, you know, what are containers in cloud. So a good background in these computers would, I think, benefit somebody that wants to get into this space. And then just a deep desire to really want to provide a service to the organization that really can benefit the organization. Because as for me, as I said, if I can find some opportunities, savings, and we can put that savings towards something else for the business to use, whatever the industry that you’re in, it’s going to be a plus. It’s a win-win. 

You find that you save a company X amount of dollars and it pays for the SAM program hand over fist, right? And, you know, CIOs, CTOs, you know, CEOs love seeing those types of savings and see the worthwhile investment in a SAM program. So if you want to get the SAM, reach out to me. If you’re listening to this podcast, I’m happy to point you in some directions. But yeah, you definitely want to have a little bit of a passion to really just dive into some analysis type of work and begin it for the long, the long run. 

Because Solid Rights and Management, as all my other SAM professionals would say, also is, you know, it’s a journey, right? There’s no destination in this type of role. Awesome. Love that advice. 

Khushboo: Thank you, Luis. And now if I have to ask you, like, how did you come to be in this role at Paramount? So tell us about that. Like, how did you land it up here at this role at Paramount? And also, like, what does your day-to-day look like today? Like, what are your responsibilities? 

Luis: Yeah, so I had that circuitous journey, you know, to where I am today. From Air Force days, right? I worked on mainframes, mainframe computers, working at a network operations center, desktop technician, and getting an opportunity just one day being able to interview for software asset management role after, you know, the organization I was at was divesting. It was just a crazy career so far, looking back at it. 

You know, I found myself really pushing myself to move forward in this because there was not too many people that have gone down this path. Most people are doing something totally different from what I was used to and really didn’t really understand what ITS or software asset management was. So there’s a lot of kind of remote talking with individuals, working remotely. I did some consulting for several organizations over the years. 

Ultimately, I found myself having enough experience that I wanted to take a shot at, you know, going back to just, you know, getting out of the consulting game and just doing engagements to being back into an industry and actually starting a SAM program almost from the ground up. That’s how I ended up in this role and leaving the consulting world, interviewing for a job here at Paramount. And yeah, I’m loving it. I’m one year into the role or working at Paramount and recently was promoted to director of software asset management. 

Khushboo: That’s great. That’s such a great achievement, Luis. Starting to where you are today is a very commendable story and I’m sure the path is just upward and onwards from here. 

Luis: Absolutely. And, you know, it’s something again that I talk about, you work hard. And I was able to really just, you know, thanks to a lot of people that, you know, gave me opportunities to showcase my talents and my skills. You know, a lot of people that I work with, I’ve enjoyed every second of it. It’s been a ride and I couldn’t hope this ride continues for a lot longer. Awesome. Love that. 

And if you have to summarize, like what would have to happen as an effort of your role and your team to kind of, for everybody at Paramount go like, oh my God, this is next level. This will take us to the next level. This is big. This will be the next big thing for us in the space you are. So what would that be? Yeah, I think for us here at Paramount, it’s a collective working towards bringing us to what we say is one Paramount. Paramount, you know, has multiple divisions, arms, you know, underneath it and bringing everybody underneath the one umbrella for one way of requesting software, one level, one way of buying that software. 

That’s what we are working towards right now. You know, and it starts with just kind of a Paramount US, then seeing to get this rolled out to the rest of the organization globally, our next level aim. We are a ways from that, but, you know, we are on this journey together to get that to get that going. So that is going to be something I think will be beneficial for end users. And that’s something I’m always keeping in my mind in the back of my mind is how will the end user community within Paramount see this? How can we make their lives easier? That’s always my main focus is how can we make your life easier? And still provide opportunities for cost savings and avoidance for the Paramount organization as a whole. 

Khushboo: Awesome. Thank you so much. It’s been a great conversation, Luis. Before I let you go, if I have to ask you, like, what would be the best place to reach out to you online if people want to connect with you or take your advice on other things and also learn more about the work you’re doing, where can they contact you online? 

Luis: Absolutely. Thank you. LinkedIn is definitely my best way to contact me. Luis Ward. You can find me out there. And by all means, please reach out for any questions or thoughts or you just want to say hi and hopefully everybody may have found a little tidbit out of this that they can take away. I hope it was beneficial. 

Khushboo: Yeah, I definitely would say yes. This was I’m sure a lot of people will take away from all that you shared around software asset management and the tips and tricks and also your stories and expertise. I think there’s a lot to take away from this conversation for sure, Luis. 

Luis: Awesome. Thank you. 

Khushboo: Thank you. Have a good one. 

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