Microsoft Audit, are You ready?

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Topics: Process, vCIO

Until recently, a Microsoft Audit was something that only large companies needed to worry about. In fact, over the last decade, I have only seen a few Microsoft licensing audit requests cross my path, but in the last month I have seen three of them. Are you in compliance with your Microsoft licensing?

What is it and what you should expect

The process seems simple enough. A small business audit typically starts with an email from Microsoft saying that they want to help you fully understand your licensing position with the company. Also attached to the email is an Excel spreadsheet containing all possible combinations of Microsoft software. Microsoft will then ask companies to complete the spreadsheet by listing all the Microsoft software that is used (or has been used) by your company. If this is where the audit stopped, it certainly would be a very easy process. Unfortunately, it does not stop there.

After providing them with a list of the products on your network, Microsoft typically responds with questions and discrepancies based on their information and will then request proof of license keys, images of retail product packaging (unless of course you still have that four year-old receipt with a detailed description), and they will also ask how the products are being used.

The costly hunt for documentation

Finding this information can be a serious problem for many small businesses. If you purchased your PCs with Windows and Office pre-installed, you will find a certificate for Windows stuck to each PC. However, the certificate for Office will usually have been delivered on a piece of paper along with the PC. You need to find these paper certificates. No certificate equals no license.

If you have any discrepancies, or purchases that are not verified, you will be required to re-purchase the licenses in question, pay fines imposed, and according to the language in MS terms, perhaps face criminal prosecution.

Getting compliant

From our experience with Microsoft audits, here are some points to note:

  • Microsoft does not want to shut you down
  • It is unlikely that any Microsoft personnel will physically visit your offices
  • You can’t just stop using Microsoft products that aren’t licensed; you just need to stay in compliance and pay the fees that go with your software.

My point is that it is a good idea to regularly audit your business to ensure that you are compliant. This will make the process of dealing with Microsoft auditors much easier.