Stuart Brown MBCS, a services architect with 3net Ltd gets to grips with ITAM.
Most large organizations do not really know what IT assets they have or who is looking after them, so using the inventory, investigation and improvement process outlined here can result in real economic benefit and productivity improvements for end users and better customer satisfaction.
IT asset management (ITAM) used to be primarily involved in acquiring hardware and software and little attention was paid to managing assets throughout their life cycle.
As a result, most large organizations have lost count of how many IT devices they have bought and installed. When they really take a close look at their inventory they find devices widely dispersed across a number of sites and managed by different departments.
The costs to maintain IT assets in operational mode, including hardware and software support services, represent between 40% and 60% of an overall IT operations budget, according to Gartner. So the question organizations need to ask is how can they control or reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) of their assets?
If an organization can obtain a complete listing of all its IT assets it would be very useful management information.
Key inventory information includes specific location data for each device and this often includes the country, city, office name, floor and location.
Also important is detailed device information, including the model number and its associated serial number (always key for external support vendors) and the software version running.
This management information is imperative for negotiating maintenance contracts with external suppliers and helps provide a sound basis from which to evaluate the required budgetary capital expenditure and operational expense.
So how do companies go about performing an audit to collect this information? Well first off a full inventory is required and investment in the proper tools or a specialist ITAM service will help to collect asset data.
With today’s complex infrastructures organizations need to be mindful that firewalls and other segmentation technology can prevent them from discovering all their assets.
Next is the investigation phase where a company will analyze their findings. Typical analysis includes an evaluation of which assets are close to, or actually beyond, their supported life by the vendors and a risk analysis of keeping out of date equipment connected to your infrastructure.
Additionally, such analysis will provide information as to which types are the most error prone and have resulted in the most service / help desk calls?
With regard to software versions deployed on networks companies need to know if there are any unstable or vulnerable versions and, whether there is a pattern emerging in how staff are using certain applications?
Finally, it is advisable to look at the support levels across the organization’s infrastructure. Hard questions have to be asked. Does the company really need the same service level in its network core and its edge? If resilient architectures are built does the company really need ‘4 hour response to site’ maintenance packages?
When this analysis is complete it’s time to plan improvements. IT refreshes are always occurring and the inventory information can help plan in advance where the next round of investment should be.
Devices that have been troublesome historically are candidates for replacement or maybe staff haven’t been trained how to use them properly. With regard to software it is a good idea to profile an organization’s users.
Often license usage could be reduced by between 10% and 20% simply by categorizing users and which applications they most frequently use. Infrequently used applications could be provided centrally to make more efficient use of expensive licenses.
When looking for vulnerable software it is important to mitigate against known problems or upgrade to a newer version that does not exhibit the same undesirable behaviour.
When looking at support service levels, it is important to marry the business requirements for availability and the time taken to restore a failed service to the architecture of a company’s IT system.
When single devices exist in non-critical areas, a spares holding or next business day replacement often will suffice. Business critical devices with no resilience need superior levels of maintenance cover, including onsite spares and same day replacement.
When dealing with fully resilient architectures, where a failure of a certain component does not automatically result in a loss of service, organizations should consider next business day replacement of failed parts if appropriate.
Fully evaluating business needs, regarding the support of assets, can dramatically change the contract that can be negotiated with external support vendors and can save organizations money.
Experience shows that organizations could save between 7% and 27% of their maintenance budgets simply by reconciling the asset register with the appropriate contracts they hold with their support vendors. Support partners will not be lining up to inform a company that they think it has too many assets covered on maintenance!
Are there real benefits in doing an IT audit or can organizations just carry on without one? IDC figures show organizations practicing ITAM have 15% lower TCO.
The next potential economic benefit was around support services and empirical analysis demonstrates cost savings of between 7% and 27% by marrying business requirements against appropriate service levels with your supplier contracts.
Effective IT asset management processes can dramatically help operational teams. Armed with accurate asset data the service/ help desk can be empowered to assist people more efficiently.
Location information helps direct staff or replacement parts to the required location quickly and efficiently. When dealing with faults the service desk can identify the exact model and serial number affected so that they can start diagnostics quicker.
Finally, if the fault on a particular device can be automatically linked by the service desk to the appropriate support entitlement, the desk can give end users timely and useful information on when they are likely to restore service.
This is simply industry best practice and much of this information is contained within the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).
IT asset management helps and enables ITIL in the following areas:
Incident & Problem Management
This is the ability to identify and record incidents. Ideally the exact asset location is known to aid diagnosis and possible replacement and to provide spares at appropriate locations to support the business needs.
Often entails linking an organization’s moves, adds, changes and deletes (MACD) processes into ITAM and enables them to track assets better. One-off audits provide an accurate picture of the current inventory.
The ability to identify asset types and plan replacements based on the asset lifecycle. This allows the IT department to forecast future capital expense and operational expense by spotting devices that are near or past their useful life and eliminate defective or vulnerable software.
IT Financial Management
Really sophisticated asset reporting that allows businesses to forecast better and extract more value from assets based on asset lifecycle and capability.
Reporting on a company’s IT assets to show which can support a business need and which assets have the capability to support future requirements.