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How to Manage IT Inventory

Salina Jones

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Visibility, transparency, awareness, clarity, forecasting. These are all characteristics for IT administrators who successfully manage their IT estate by employing the discipline of IT asset management (ITAM).

If asset management used to be a side task for the IT department a few years ago, nowadays it’s become an essential part of IT service management. ITAM has been ranked as the fifth most adopted aspect of ITSM.

In addition, ITAM has a direct impact on the top four ITSM processes, namely the management of incidents, knowledge, change and problems.

This article will cover numerous practices and tips for improving the management of IT assets.

ITAM in the modern business environment

The IAITAM describes IT Asset Management as a set of business practices that incorporates IT assets across business units within an organisation. Its purpose is to join the financial, inventory, contractual and risk management responsibilities to manage the overall life cycle of the assets in question.

Organisational practices and industry trends from the past decade have increased the need for better asset management. Those include:

  • Rise of Shadow IT, where non-IT executives adopt new solutions without going through the formal process.
  • Continual need to transform IT platforms, cloud migrations and virtualisation.
  • Uncertainty around software license costs caused by virtualisation and migration to the cloud.
  • Increasing pressure to reduce costs while maintaining performance.
  • Increase in number of software audits.

Even back in 2011, clients who successfully executed ITAM as a discipline have typically achieved a 30 per cent cost saving in the first year and five per cent in the subsequent five years.

On the other hand, organisations who have not adopted ITAM or who have adopted it poorly are reported to spend 20 per cent of their total cost on software licensing and hardware maintenance for assets which are no longer used.

IT asset management typically differentiates between software asset management (SAM) and hardware asset management (HAM). SAM and HAM are two sides of the same coin. They need to be managed slightly differently as each one has specific requirements, but they are nonetheless interlinked.

In the early days, hardware came first and software second, as there had to be a physical infrastructure for software to reside on.

However, hardware is expensive and hard to maintain, which makes large investments in IT physical infrastructure for smaller businesses difficult to achieve.

Nowadays, large enterprises such as SAP, IBM and Microsoft are bearing the hardware infrastructure investment and operational costs, offering the computing power and storage to their customers as services.

Serverless development takes this a step further, allowing one computer with an internet connection to seamlessly run complex functions.

As such, we’re starting to see a different distribution between hardware and software from organisation to organisation. Smaller businesses need less investment in hardware, while large organisations who provide Infrastructure as a Service, need to deploy more resources to meet demand.

Here we need to remember that most businesses have already made investments in IT infrastructure and are only expanding their IT capabilities by adopting cloud solution. This is where complexity becomes an issue and asset management becomes crucial.

Almost 70 per cent of companies who have virtualised their software assets have failed vendor audits and ended up being charged large bills. Software audits are a heavy burden on IT resources, ITAM teams having to spend 50 to 70 per cent of their time on dealing with audits annually.

Cost reduction is the main driver and the most obvious reason for adopting ITAM. But there are many more benefits besides cost reduction such as:

  • Increase procurement efficiency
  • Improve compliance
  • Increase asset and intellectual property security
  • Reduce financial, contractual and reputation risk
  • Better position to negotiate new contracts

What to look for in IT Asset Management Tools

Fortunately, alongside the increasingly complex IT and networking systems, we’ve also developed tools which can help us optimize and improve organisations’ asset collection.

The core capabilities that an IT Asset Management Tool must have are;

  • Easy Data Import capabilities.
  • Repository to manage software and hardware assets.
  • Clearly defined relationship between IT Assets, Users and usage information.
  • Integration with adjacent IT and business systems.

When researching for the best ITAM tool, be aware that there are pieces of software which either have a free trial or have a freemium pricing model, so you can try before you buy.

The following functions for IT Asset Management tools can also be very useful:

  • Audit Management.
  • Compliance Tracking.
  • Configuration Management.
  • Contract/License Management.
  • Cost Tracking.
  • Inventory Management.
  • Maintenance Management.
  • Procurement Management.
  • Requisition Management.
  • Supplier Management.

What about spreadsheets?

While they might seem rudimentary and definitely get less marketing budget compared to dedicated ITAM tools, spreadsheets have plenty of functionality which makes them suitable for small to medium IT estates.

In order to make the most of spreadsheet software, consider using the following functionalities:

  • Conditional formatting: this can be used to highlight assets going out of support, updates or the like.
  • Reporting: using Microsoft Excel graphs or Pivot tables can produce complex reports.
  • Macros: automate data processing and connect to external sources.
  • Data exporting and importing: connect to SQL databases to feed or pull information.

In addition, most spreadsheet software is free, and most IT systems already have a version of Microsoft Excel, so there is no need for additional investment.

Managing Hardware Assets

Hardware is an umbrella term which includes most items that can be found in an IT environment. Some examples are: desktops, laptops, monitors, routers, switches, hubs, phones and many more.

The information stored against each hardware asset must at least ensure that the asset can be uniquely identified.

In order to optimize hardware assets, IT administrators need to keep additional information in regards to warranty, support contracts, maintenance and other variables. Hardware asset management also needs to include data to support SAM.

Here is some core information for hardware:

  • Asset name: create a unique identifier using information such as make, model, location.
  • Asset vendor.
  • Device Type: laptop, router, mobile phone.
  • Serial number.
  • Asset status: Deployed, In Storage, Retired, Disposed.
  • Asset role: Production, Standby, Test.
  • Ownership: the organisational entity that owns each asset.
  • Device location.
  • Configuration Information.
  • Software installed on asset.
  • Purchase Date.
  • Go-Live Date.
  • Warranty / Contractual support Expiry Date.

When populating an ITAM tool’s database or a spreadsheet, IT administrators need to firstly add the information about current IT assets, and secondly set up a process for adding new assets as they get acquired in the future.

How to add current IT asset register information into a tool’s database

Below are described three ways in which IT administrators can populate a tool’s database with information about their current IT systems.

1. Import any existing trackers into the tool: if you have grown your business and a simple spreadsheet was enough to keep track of your hardware, you can use your spreadsheet to feed all the information into the HAM tool

2. Discover your network for connected devices: there are plenty of discovery tools that are able to scan the entirety of your network and return plenty of information about your hardware assets

3. Use supplier’s order information: order details issued by the suppliers will give you information about all the assets in your estate

How to set up an IT asset tracking process for new items

Upon adding new IT assets in their estate, organisations go through a specific hardware lifecycle. The lifecycle outlines the steps through which the device progresses throughout its life.

Typically, a hardware lifecycle entails the following:

  1. Architecture and Network Design.
  2. Request for asset.
  3. Approval and Procurement.
  4. Deployment.
  5. Usage, maintenance and upgrades.
  6. Decommissioning.

In a lifecycle such as the one described above, the asset tracking process starts as early as step number one. After doing an analysis and putting forward a purchase order or business case for purchasing more assets, the IT department should already have a clear picture of which device will go where and what software it will need to run.

In step number four the asset management process can be consolidated when all data is available.

How to optimize IT assets using Hardware Asset Management

The benefits of using a hardware asset management tool stretches beyond simply storing device information. Modern tools allow you to configure your dashboard and access valuable information such as:

  • Generate reports: see the availability, usage, items not currently installed, devices to be decommissioned.
  • Use IT Network Monitoring to raise alarms: raise issues when software is going out of warranty or reaching end of life.
  • Automate deployment workflows: create configuration templates for devices depending on their functions.
  • Manage software and security updates: schedule dedicated time slots for updates to minimize downtime.

Software Asset Management

Managing software assets has become a necessity after the widespread implementation of cloud computing and the silent inclusion of Shadow IT.

Software asset management provides three benefits:

  • Governance: ensuring that only approved applications are introduced into the local computing environment and the software licenses are fully and appropriately utilized.
  • Management: SAM provides multiple functions for scheduling updates, forecasting costs, adding new assets and decommissioning old ones.
  • Enterprise agility: the availability of information dramatically speeds up the change process in large organisations.

Licensing is arguably the most important dimension in regards to software asset management as poor handling of licenses can cost organisations in the millions.

There are many types of licenses, each with different contractual agreements and requirements. Some of those are:

  • Identity-locked: a license is assigned to a specific user and is non-commutable (e.g. Microsoft Windows).
  • Node-locked: a license which can only be used by one user at a time, but multiple users can use at subsequent times.
  • Floating: a license which is available to a large number of users. Upon login, a licensing system assigned the requesting user a license which is claimed back at the end of the session.
  • Site license: Unlimited usage on the site of the license installation.
  • Open Source: unlimited usage within the licensing agreement.
  • Timed: license is only available for a set period of time.
  • Physically Restricted: licenses attached to hardware.

Choosing a SAM tool

Software asset management tools are designed to offer IT administrators as much control and visibility over their IT estate. While each tool is different, most of them include functionalities such as:

  • Software license management
  • Software configuration
  • Software inventory management
  • Software utilization
  • Contract and purchasing
  • Compliance ad governance
  • Software lifecycle management
  • Software deployment
  • Reporting

When assessing the critical capabilities of software asset management tools, we recommend looking for characteristics which reconcile software entitlement and consumption data to reduce compliance risk, optimize costs and improve business performance. We recommend Infrastructure and operations leaders to look for the following:

  • Software Entitlements Manual Entry
  • Software Entitlements Automation
  • Endpoint Software Consumption
  • Data Center Software Consumption
  • Cloud Consumption
  • Speciality Software Consumption
  • Reconcile External Information
  • Optimize Entitlements/Consumption
  • Share Information

How to manage software assets when employees join, leave, or move within the company

Whenever there is an organisational change, the employee in question will need to have an updated set of IT assets.

A workflow needs to be set up which should cover the following: assignment of existing assets, procurement of new assets, recovery of assets upon leaving the company, and also setting up a process for lost or stolen assets.

This IT workflow would need to work closely with the HR system, communicating between them information about the user and levels of permission.

How to manage software assets to prevent audits

Vendor audits are processes for investigating an organisation’ compliance for using software within the contractual terms.

Poor visibility and management of available licenses can lead to an organisation being uncompliant, making it an easy target for vendors to up-sell their product and charge them large bills.

Large software vendors such as Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, SAP and Oracle have gained a reputation for aggressive software audits which disrupt an organisation’s IT operations.

By adopting a software asset management tool, the risk of becoming uncompliant is drastically reduced as IT administrators have an overarching view of all the available licenses, how they are distributed, who is using them, and when they are due to expire.

Keeping on top of license renewals, acquiring additional assets when demand increases and removing licenses in instances in which they are not use will help organisations not only protect themselves against being audited, but also optimize their IT estate to produce most values.

Managing software assets when migrating to the cloud

Cloud migration is a complex and long project that can leave many holes in the IT systems if done incorrectly. Software asset management play a huge role in ensuring that all users have access to the same services as before and there are no discrepancies between the system pre and post-migration.

Each vendor has slightly different systems, so there is a difference between SAP’s Hana Enterprise Cloud, IBM Cloud and even Adobe Experience Cloud.

Microsoft recommends IT leaders to consider SAM solutions that aid with the following:

  • Helping determine whether on-premises, cloud, or hybrid is the best structure for the business.
  • Mitigating risks associated with moving datacenter assets for consolidation, cloud, and virtualization projects.
  • Delivering a long-term cloud migration road map that helps define migration goals.
  • Assessing whether migrating to the cloud will make it easier to manage software assets.
  • Having an in-depth understanding of software licensing for both cloud and on-premises deployments.