In this article, co-written with Tom Watson, CEO and Founder of hardware asset management specialists AMI, we explore how HAM has evolved to meet the changing requirements of hybrid environments.
Until recently, the requirements for managing hardware had remained the same for many years. Companies had physical devices in discrete locations, and these devices rarely left those locations. All devices used for company business were business owned or leased. Whilst these relatively static environments still presented asset management problems – such as stock management – they were far easier to manage than modern environments. Specifically, modern environments present the following HAM challenges.
Even pre-pandemic companies were slowly transitioning from desktop devices to laptops. These inherently more portable devices are harder to track than the desktops they replaced.
However, the rapid switch to remote working presented additional challenges, not least because these devices were not always connected to a secure corporate network. Remote working also raised the issue of organizations managing devices owned by their employees.
The use of personal devices grew as companies turned to SaaS applications to service their remote workforces. SaaS apps are inherently platform-agnostic, often only requiring a browser and an internet connection, which means employees can use whichever device they choose.
Finally, devices became more diverse in response to global supply chain issues which lead to a shortage of business laptops and this saw firms deploying devices such as Chromebooks and other thin clients. Taken together, these changes present a considerable challenge for organizations that need to track the devices used to conduct company business.
The need to track all devices used to conduct company business is a key driver for improving HAM capabilities in hybrid environments. Regulations such as HIPAA and PCI-DSS require organizations to keep detailed records of devices used to access sensitive data – healthcare records in the case of HIPAA and payment card information for PCI-DSS which, for example, requires a full inventory of devices with access to the Card Data Environment (CDE). An inability to provide this can result in failure of a regulatory audit, leading to unplanned costs and potential disruption to an organization’s ability to process card payments.
As noted above, end-user computing devices are already diverse – we now have laptops, desktops, mobile devices, and thin clients to track. Also contributing to this diversity is the growth of the Internet-of-Things – network connected devices such as sensors, control systems, production machinery, even fish tanks. As with more traditional devices, it’s vital to track these assets from a cost management, efficiency, and regulatory perspective.
Somewhat driven by the catalyst of remote working and the so-called “Great Resignation”, organizations are paying closer attention to how they serve their employees. For remote workers this included ensuring that they have the right technology to carry out their roles efficiently and reliably. Clearly a remote worker can’t just find a hot desk, or have spare equipment on hand should their work device fail. Where HAM can help here is in enabling IT fulfillment teams to keep the right levels of stock of the right devices for employees. Similarly, HAM has a role to play in tracking devices securely to and from employees as they move through the organization. Secure logistics is needed both for provisioning and deprovisioning technology to remote users and maintaining a secure chain of custody for devices potentially containing sensitive information.
The final trend where HAM has a role to play is a growing focus on sustainability and circular or sustainable IT. With 80% of the total environmental cost of a typical laptop sunk in its production and initial distribution, it’s vital that companies optimize hardware stock levels. Optimizing stock ensures that consumption of net new devices is minimized and corporate ESG goals can be used to support this by investing in robust asset deployment/recovery processes and tooling.
Having explored the challenges and opportunities for HAM teams, what does a modern HAM tool need to deliver HAM in hybrid environments?
A modern HAM tool must be able to work continuously to discover new devices either on company networks or being used by employees for work purposes. In order to handle device diversity, it needs comprehensive discovery and normalization/reconciliation capabilities. It must also provide context about that device – where it’s being used, when was it last used, who used it, and so on.
Technology governance is now a broad discipline across IT and beyond. There are many teams who all require and benefit from knowledge about hardware devices. When technology estates were relatively static it might have been sufficient to provide a weekly or monthly update to these teams manually via spreadsheets. That’s no longer the case and this means that our HAM tools must integrate with the tools used by key stakeholders such as Service Desk, Configuration Management, and Security.
Modern organizations are managed with shared KPIs and metrics, often surfaced on management dashboards. HAM tools must be able to provide and track progress against meaningful KPIs in order to demonstrate the value of your HAM program to stakeholders. Furthermore, and building on the requirements to integrate with other tools, these KPIs and metrics should be made available to industry standard Business Intelligence (BI) tools and interested stakeholders.
Previously, optimizing stock was all about cost management. It was a fine line balancing between retaining sufficient loan/replacement devices to meet demand without having expensive hardware sitting idle. Prior to the ongoing disruption to global supply chains, it was possible to run near “just-in-time” stock levels.
However, with supply chains facing uncertainty it is likely that organizations are carrying more stock devices – long gone are the days where laptops could be ordered reliably for next-day or even same-day delivery. This is more costly but perhaps more importantly there is an ESG impact due to the 80/20 front-loading of total environmental costs in the manufacture and distribution of new devices.
It’s therefore vital that we optimize stock levels to avoid devices being acquired unnecessarily. A HAM solution can help here by tracking stock levels and key reliability metrics such as MTBF (mean time before failure) along with warranty expiry dates, parts availability, and so on.
Increasingly, IT teams are turning to managed services for routine, repeatable tasks. HAM is particularly well-suited to working with a managed services partner. The required tasks are well-defined and frequent, but also variable, particularly in industries such as leisure, retail, and tourism all of which have seasonal workforces to provision. Managed services also have expertise in servicing remote workforces, and firms with global reach can work with HAM tool providers to provide local service hubs for large organizations.
Hardware Asset Management as a discipline is undoubtedly in the ascendancy. More devices, more regulation, and more stakeholders interested in their organization’s use of hardware are all contributing to this. It’s no longer just about popping a barcode on a device and recording it in a database. Real-time HAM supported with rich analytics and dashboarding has become a vital tool for stakeholders needing to understand the full asset lifecycle. In the coming years, the focus on ESG goals at C-Suite level will make it even more vital.
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Update 29th November 2022: AMI won the Marketplace Tool of the Year award at the ITAM Review Excellence Awards 2022. This award is based exclusively on reviews left by customers on the ITAM Review Marketplace. To read more about the awards, and to see the other winners, visit the “Excellence Awards 2022 winners” article.