What is IT Asset Management (ITAM) and why should I care?
The purpose of ITAM is to obtain and maintain a record of all the assets under IT care. To track every single asset throughout its lifecycle. As a rule, IT assets include all software, hardware, networks, cloud services and peripheral devices. You may think that keeping asset records is more for accountants than IT people. But the opposite is true. How do you express the value of the products and services you offer to your business without understanding the cost and value of the IT assets you deploy to do so?
The benefits of ITAM go much further. You’ll get rid of clutter and any ‘shadow IT’ initiatives. This will reduce vulnerabilities and increase security. You’ll save money in your budget by not spending on unnecessary equipment. and avoid the risk of licensing audits. You will not pay more than is needed to suppliers and will be able to renew hardware and software in good time. User support will benefit in a big way. Let’s illustrate this with two practical examples.
The Eternal Hunt for Monitors and Other Sad Tales from Real Life
The sad classic tales of broken computers go like this: The user reports a computer malfunction and you are dropped in at the deep end of unscheduled detective work, since you know literally nothing about this particular piece of hardware. What is the HW configuration? Has there been a RAM upgrade lately? Have any of his colleagues dealt with other problems on this kit? Finally, you find out your colleague Charles has an Excel spreadsheet, where he has been trying to keep some information. You’re lucky to find that the ‘sick computer’ is logged in his Excel. You find it is out of warranty, for over a year now. So you order a new one.
If instead you’d had a properly implemented ITAM approach, you would already know at the time of reporting the incident what computer it was, its problem history and previous solutions, when it was last repaired, how much free disk space it has, etc. In fact, you wouldn’t even need to solve this problem, because you’d have been notified 3 months before the warranty period expired that it was due for replacement.
Now imagine this whole story from the user’s point of view. In the first scenario, they can’t keep working, and the problem is being addressed by a daunted technician, who clearly doesn’t have things under control. In the second scenario, they get on with work, having had a proactive email that a new laptop is ready. All without even knowing they were eligible for a new machine. Our IT is obviously on top of things. Wow! What an experience!
Now consider that Eternal Hunt for Monitors we used in our headline. It goes like this: You entrust your staff with a laptop, a docking station and a monitor. They sign the handover protocol and that’s that, for a while. After a while, the employee is involved in an office move. They take the laptop, but are not inclined to bring the monitor along, when there’s one just like it at the new desk. A little later, someone needs an extra monitor for a conference, so they take the one from the desk where no one’s been sitting for a month. When they get back from the conference, they sit the monitor down on another table. Another completely different employee moves to this desk the following week, happy to find they don’t have to drag their old monitor with them. Three days later, the monitor goes on the blink, and the employee calls the helpdesk.
The technician on the helpdesk looks at the handover protocol. Well, this monitor’s still under warranty, so that will be an easy fix. They go to the office to collect the monitor, only to find, to their horror, that it’s a completely different monitor than the one from the handover protocol. Is this monitor also under warranty? To find out, they must leaf through the last 100 handover protocols and compare serial numbers against purchase contracts. One small incident, leading to a pretty solid waste of time. In reality, rather than do that, the technician would order (chargeable) repairs.
Excel spreadsheets are not the solution
Looking at these case examples, a few things stand out:
- The L1 support technician for standard user support needs to have information about hardware, software and device history.
- This information must be up-to-date. You can’t rely on someone who occasionally makes a note in a spreadsheet about what monitor a user has had assigned to them. Once you get past 100 PCs in your business, you won’t keep up with Excel. You need a system that automatically collects and updates the data.
An Excel spreadsheet approach won’t reduce your workload. The spreadsheet gradually swells up, as you add new columns to it, which you then can’t find the time to fill. Errors multiply because you don’t always check the input data. If more than one person starts using it, it is pretty soon pretty useless.
But if one dedicated person looks after it, the situation can get even worse. You are suddenly wholly reliant on one person, your ‘information guardian’. When they fall ill, you’re stuck. When they share the spreadsheet with you, you’re stuck because you don’t understand it. You open Excel and struggle to figure out what you see. Likewise, the asset accounting register is of no use to you. That one would be more accurate, in principle, but you won’t find details about CPU, RAM or installed SW in it.
How to obtain and automate your asset register
Circumstances usually force even a chaotic department to do a once-in-a-while asset inventory. Either due to an annual inventory process, or, more urgently, due to an internal or external audit. At such times, incredible things can surface. For example, you may find no one is sure of the physical location of the particular server on which important applications are running, or that you’re paying out a lot of money for things you don’t need. To find yourself having to address such issues while under the audit spotlight is far from pleasant. That’s why we recommend setting up ITAM as soon as possible.
If you have outgrown Excel, asset management software will help you establish a live Asset Register. The software can automatically scan the network and import information from Active Directory. This ensures the database is always ‘live’. But that doesn’t mean that once you get the software you can put your feet up. Far from it. To get things under control in the first place, you can’t avoid a physical inventory-taking and labelling of your assets. While you’re doing that, you set up processes to ensure that any change in the assets (a new laptop, a new registration to a cloud service, ...) also get recorded in the asset register.
It pays to start with Hardware Asset Management. Once you have that under control, the next level is Software Asset Management. Once you have mastered that, you can link your ITAM practice with Configuration Management, where you also monitor the logical infrastructure in the configuration database (CMDB).
Some final advice: The system will only keep track of whatever you can register automatically or manually in your system. You may need to look up some information outside your system from time to time. But supporting all that, you’ll have a system you can trust.