A new standard for software asset management, from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) could help companies convince licence-enforcement agencies they are above-board.

For the first time, the ISO/IEC 19770-1 standard for software asset management (SAM) processes, gives companies an internationally-recognised way to demonstrate they're satisfying corporate governance requirements with regard to software. It should simplify companies' increasingly thorny relationship with organisations such as the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), set up to monitor licensing compliance. The standard is available from ISO's website.

"It enables organisations, for the first time, to benchmark their SAM processes against internationally approved guidelines," stated Shaun Frohlich, chair of Investors in software, a British non-profit that has been working with standards bodies on ISO/IEC 19770-1. "Good practice in SAM brings significant benefits in the areas of risk management, cost control, and competitive advantage."

The BSA welcomed the standard and will actively promote it. Neil MacBride, the BSA's vice president for legal affairs, said managing software assets has become more complex as software has become more important to the operations of companies. "With the publishing of this standard, organisations now have access to best practice in this field and can seek certification confident in the knowledge that, once implemented, they will be well on the road to full software compliance," he said.

The risks of improper software licensing have grown dramatically, thanks in part to organisations such as the BSA, which recently offered a £20,000 bounty to employees who turn in their bosses, if they believe software hasn't been properly licensed.

FAST, whose recent press releases have titles such as "We are coming to get you!" and "NO ESCAPE", is also expected to endorse the standard.

Microsoft has had its part in license-enforcement thuggery. Earlier this week, industry journal Computerworld reported that the company has been using "software asset management engagement managers" to threaten companies with legal action unless they allow a Microsoft consultant to inventory installed software. The approach was part of an elaborate sales strategy, according to those involved.

Microsoft said its aim is to help customers navigate the complexities of software licensing and that one of the roles of engagement managers is to assist in that effort by informing customers of a potential licensing risk.