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COVID-19 sparks software licensing issues with remote users

Organizations face a range of issues with the spread of COVID-19, including how to support a newly remote workforce. Learn how to address these enterprise licensing concerns.

As more workers are being asked to work remotely due to the spread of COVID-19, some organizations aren't prepared for the increased demand for software licensing across the enterprise.

While there is usually the straightforward option to purchase additional licenses, unplanned expenses at a time of economic uncertainty aren't ideal, or in some cases, possible.

Organizations must adjust quickly to this new reality of supporting large groups of remote workers, and a little creativity can offset at least some of these software licensing issues. With the right knowledge and a bit of creativity, organizations can brave the storm of this pandemic and the licensing troubles that come with it.

Web conference license shortages

Licensing for web conference software such as GoToMeeting and Zoom begs the question: Do organizations need 1,000 web conferencing licenses if their staff totals 1,000? The short answer is maybe not.

Before anyone signs a purchase order for additional licensing, IT should check whether its existing licenses cover named users or concurrent users. A concurrent user agreement sets a limit of total users that may access software at a given time, while a named user agreement requires a license for each user that will access the software at any point. Of course, concurrent user licensing will present fewer software licensing issues as organizations can simply limit the size of meetings.

IT could also ask staff how many of them will be hosting and broadcasting meetings. In many instances, web conferencing only requires a license to host a meeting and attendees can join as guests for free. For organizations with limits on concurrent attendees, meeting hosts could record any sessions that don't require real-time communication. Microsoft Teams, for example, will keep recordings available in the meeting placeholder so staff can access them on their own time if they cannot make the live broadcast.

Security software licensing issues

While a lot has changed due to the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic, regulation and customer confidentiality requirements have not. Whenever required, or ideally, whenever possible, users should still connect to corporate resources via VPN or transmit data in an encrypted format.

When VPN connectivity is prohibitive or impractical and there is no legal requirement for it, IT departments should encourage the use of password-protected archives such as those provided by WinZip or WinRAR files. However, they must ensure that employees do not transmit the associated passwords alongside the encrypted files.

Users may cite their own personal VPNs as a suitable replacement, but IT pros will have to explain that this VPN won't grant them access to the corporate network. Organizations that need to implement a VPN quickly can turn to services such as OpenVPN, which charge per connected device rather than per device. Additionally, IT can get OpenVPN's service up and running quickly, as it is a cloud service and no additional hardware is required.

If a VPN is currently in place, IT pros should check that their organization's VPN licensing can support enough users and the expected workload. Additionally, they should make sure they have sufficient bandwidth to ensure smooth operations with more concurrent connections than usual. If employees will access the internet via a corporate proxy, this hairpin will double the amount of traffic per request, so IT pros should build that into their network load calculations.

Licenses for messaging and digital calls

Mobile bills are a significant cost concern for enterprise organizations that deploy mobile devices, and the demand will likely increase for conference lines for audio-only meetings or international calls. For internal calls, IT should suggest that users connect to their home Wi-Fi or another secure connection while on their mobile devices to use the smartphone's call features -- especially for video calls.

To avoid confusion, it's best for organizations or departments to agree on a single messaging app for mobile devices. For example, if an organization agrees to use Facebook Messenger, IT or users can create work Facebook profiles for the staff and use the app's free calls to communicate with each other without having to share personal profiles or collect personal phone numbers.

WhatsApp is a common option, but it requires a phone number to set up, so setup might be more complicated -- especially where personal devices are in play. These are just two examples of the many mobile communications apps available for free. The chosen app doesn't matter so long as it fits its purpose, but it is better if there is a single app in use to avoid confusion among staff.

Rather than multiplying the number of staff by the number of software packages and buying a license for everything, organizations should try to assess who needs access to what resources.

Organization with an existing communications app for desktops such as Microsoft Teams or Slack should check to see if there is a mobile equivalent. In most cases, there will be a mobile option that doesn't require additional licenses.

Get creative with software licensing issues

Rather than multiplying the number of staff by the number of software packages and buying everyone a license for everything, organizations should try to assess who needs access to what resources. They should only buy according to the functional needs. Perhaps IT should even consider developing a request portal so users can request licenses for software packages as required.

IT and whoever makes purchase decisions at an organization should try to stay ahead of these requests whenever possible to grant everyone access to the tools they need. This way, even if users don't have existing access to the software, they can quickly access the software without purchasing the application's licensing for the whole organization. This can save an organization plenty of money when only a small percentage of users need access to a specific application.

Of course, IT will have to monitor this portal closely and take action quickly to avoid major productivity losses. Ideally, the savings on unnecessary licenses for large organizations should easily offset the administrative overhead.

Managing new remote workers

Employees working remotely for the first time should check in with their manager daily. Discipline isn't uniform across all workers. Briefing their manager on their tasks for the day helps the employees maintain focus while also allowing the manager to better assess the position of the team and report back to upper management and executives.

Distractions do occur in the home, especially with schools shut in many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. While granting employees leeway to deal with this unusual circumstance is fine, managers can give them an occasional reminder that they are still "at work" to keep them on track. Remote managers should try not to micromanage the employees and accept that they are also trying to adapt to this new reality.

Continuity is more important than perfection, and employees may have concerns about friends and loved ones. This is new to the employee as well as the business and it may take a little while to find an equilibrium.

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