Corralling Those Wild IT Assets
You are responsible for managing the 3,000 user accounts and 3,500 computers for your company. It's 9AM on Monday morning...Do you know where your users' computers are?
If you are working for a typical company, it's highly probable you do not. As an example, Dave Bingham, Consulting Director at Fujitsu Consulting UK, recently audited British Telecom's IT assets and found that they had 20,000 more computers than they thought -- now that is a serious asset management problem!
The typical IT shop is responsible for the administration of over 500 desktop systems loaded with standard desktop productivity software and random other applications. It has 30 servers at various patch levels and ages supporting a complex variety of functions -- and don't forget all the network and telecom gear to track as well.
Is your asset inventory management in your head or on a piece of paper tacked in your cubicle? Do you even know if you have paid for all your software licenses? Microsoft and some of the other big software companies have recently become much more aggressive at prosecuting companies for unlicensed software, which means you might be vulnerable to a very hefty charge if you are audited. If this sounds like your IT shop, you are not alone.
Benefits of IT Asset Management
Obviously, the combination of IT inventory shrinkage and unutilized computers directly affects the company's bottom line, but there are more subtle and equally costly effects of inadequate IT inventory control. If you do not have standardized systems, your IT support costs can be substantially higher due to:
- More configurations to support
- More IT staff time researching and integrating systems
- More potential for integration problems and application conflicts
- Slower problem resolutions
- Longer upgrade cycle times
Getting Started Managing Your IT Assets
Although you can reap considerable savings if you implement inventory controls for your IT assets, there are some direct overhead costs associated with the asset management process. Before investing in any systems, you must make some business decisions about how closely you will manage your assets and how you plan to use the inventory information. Your ability to use asset tracking to your advantage will depend on the quality and reusability of the data, your organization's size, and the complexity of your IT infrastructure.
The asset data can and should be used to forecast IT expenditures. How can you justify purchasing new equipment if you do not even know what you already have? Management will look more favorably on a business case for new equipment if they trust your inventory.
If you are going to use asset tracking for planning a legacy system phase-out, you need different information than just using the information as part of an overall helpdesk ticketing system. Do you need to track what systems all your software is installed on or just the total number of application packages you have? Most asset tracking software can get very detailed if required -- tracking hardware components, operating systems revisions, and what repairs have been done on each system. At the very minimum, you need to know something about the system, who it belongs to (or who is responsible for paying for it), and where it is located.
After you have determined what you will be using the systems for, the next steps are to gather the correct information and then implement the system. I strongly recommend avoiding a costly one-time inventory unless you are implementing an elaborate automated asset tracking system at the same time. It can be costly to gather too much data, yet if the data is inadequate, you will not realize the potential benefits. In this case, bad data is worse than no data at all.
Using consultants who have expertise in this area can be very cost effective as they should be able to help you translate your business needs into systems requirements. As Pat Joy, former lab manager at Genuity puts it, "We knew what we wanted; we just didn't know how to translate it in a working system. The integrator helped us implement a lab equipment tracking system quickly and painlessly."
The simplest asset management method is to build computers and software asset tracking directly into your purchasing and deployment process. You can also take advantage of required financial business processes to track capital equipment. One problem with this approach, though, is that as prices of IT systems have fallen dramatically, they are no longer considered capital. Keeping the tracking process part of the purchase process solves that problem.
Once you have the information, you can incorporate it directly into your internal helpdesk application. A helpdesk ticket can be resolved more quickly if complete information about the user, system, and applications are already available to the technician. By analyzing your tickets and your inventory, you can also use it to identify problem configurations and applications, systems redundancies, and potential IT process improvements.
What Products Are Available?
Fortunately, nowadays there are integrated asset tracking and helpdesk systems to suit any sized business and budget. The systems range from basic small business call-tracking tools that provide trouble ticketing and reporting to feature-rich, highly scalable, enterprise solutions that offer tight integration with your network and systems management tools. Basic products typically cost from $1000 to $10,000, depending on the features and number of licenses required.
Unlike large-enterprise products, which can take weeks or months to install and customize (and at an extra cost if the vendor does the installation), basic products are typically easy to install and learn. Be aware that many of these products use proprietary databases rather than open standards-based relational databases. However, they are not generally designed to handle the call volume of the more expensive products. Basic products are also typically less customizable than large-enterprise scale products. For example, at the low-end, Blue Ocean sells TrackIT, a nicely integrated ticketing and asset tracking package aimed at the small and mid-sized enterprise.
If you are a Microsoft-centric shop and want something more customizable, you might consider Microsoft's Service Management Server (SMS). In addition to asset tracking features, it allows you to conduct automatic uploads of updates and patches across your network. This is a great feature if your systems are synced enough to take advantage of it.
At the very high end are some of the full-featured CRM and ticketing systems, including Vantive, Remedy, and Clarify. For the large corporation with a fully integrated helpdesk, extending the existing ticketing system to track assets might make sense.
Having a record of your IT assets can potentially save you and your company enormous amounts of time in more effective delivery of IT support services. The longer you wait to get started, the harder it is, so start researching which package is right for your company today.