Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/12/fast_compliance_manager/

Copyright cops launch MS-happy software compliance tool

Fast way to make a buck (or £3.5k)

By Kelly Fiveash

Posted in Small Biz, 12th February 2009 14:43 GMT

Fast Consultancy Services has begun selling a software compliance tool aimed at small to medium-sized businesses in the UK that run Windows-based machines, have Internet Explorer as their default browser and £3,500 to spare.

The company, which is a spin off from the Federation Against Software Theft, launched the Fast Compliance Manager software yesterday.

Fast's managing director Andy Pearce told The Register that the tool had been bundled together into the firm's existing membership portfolio.

"We don’t sell software, we don’t sell training - we sell a membership and we have a range of consulting and professional services," he explained.

Fast is asking businesses to sign up to one of three different packages, all of which offer software provision, support, analysis of policies and procedures, telephone and training – at a fixed annual fee.

The basic package will set an organisation back £3,500 per annum, membership plus comes in at £6,000 a year, and the premium version costs £9,995 pa and includes a Software Asset Management (SAM) review.

Pearce also explained to us how Fast keeps its annual fee ticking over for the premium service.

“If everyone’s comfortable that an organisation is on top of their Microsoft licensing, for example, then it could be a waste of money to have another detailed audit.

"So we’ll return the following year to look at another supplier, be it SAP or Oracle and so on to ensure the business is also compliant in that area."

Pearce also attempted to underline why such a tool is critical to a business.

He claimed that one unnamed public sector borough was a staggering £600,000 over-licenced, after it failed to record what software it had on old hardware that had simply been ditched. He said a multinational company based in the Midlands got into a similar pickle and ended up £1.3m over licence with its software.

However, Pearce refused to reveal the identities of the organisations. "It wouldn't be right of me to name names," he said.

One man band left to whistle for it

Fast, which claims 2,500 members UK-wide from all sectors, is pitching its new tool at SMEs that have from around 30 to 250 PCs under their roof.

But that didn't stop Pearce singling out the little guy, even though at present the company isn't gunning for the less-profitable SMB market.

"A one man band or a man and his lad as some people describe themselves find it very difficult to run their IT in isolation from supportive organisations," opined Pearce.

"So Fast positions itself to help firms be up to date on legislation to help them get on and do their job."

But when asked to clarify if, in reality, small businesses could really benefit from such a tool after parting with a hefty annual £3,500 fee, Pearce admitted that Fast currently had "nothing to offer to the SMB market".

He said: "We’re a commercial enterprise and we have a responsibility to our shareholders so our focus is on that 30 to 250-PC market segment where we believe there’s a significant opportunity for us as a commercial business."

Microsoft's anti-piracy and SAM marketing manager Samantha Bramwell was also present at yesterday's launch.

"We recognise there’s an opportunity to educate SMBs and I would ask that all of our partners look at that part of the market because some of those customers do grow into larger enterprises," she told El Reg.

"But we totally understand that Fast’s business model and its shareholders need to be respected."

Many businesses have complained long and hard that Microsoft's licensing model is unwieldy, over-complicated and extremely difficult to nail down.

"Microsoft’s licencing is complex, I’m not going to deny that point," agreed Bramwell. "But it’s there for a reason because we offer so much choice. We offer 500 products so we can’t offer a one-size-fits-all to businesses."

Meanwhile, any UK organisation interested in adding the tool to their already squeezed IT budget will need to install Microsoft's free SQL Server Express edition, which doesn't need a licence, in order to host the database.

There are no client installations required either as the database can be accessed via a web browser. There is a caveat though: Fast only supports Internet Explorer at this time. ®