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Best practices to make your IT Asset Management a successful operation
IT Asset Management (ITAM) is a set of business practices for optimizing spending and supporting decision-making with the IT environment. It also seeks to increase company-wide understanding of the value IT provides to the business. IT asset management does this by creating a detailed, up-to-date inventory of the organization’s IT assets (hardware, software, subscriptions, etc.), and then leveraging that inventory to drive any IT-related decisions. The underlying concept of IT asset management is that informed planning leads to a reduction in waste, better ROI from IT investments and avoidance of unnecessary risk.
Unfortunately, many companies do not achieve the aspirations and objectives they’ve set for their ITAM programs. “We don’t know what we don’t know” is one of IT leaders’ more common comments about their IT asset-management data. Despite noble efforts and considerable expenditure of resources, companies are failing to harvest the rich insights they need to drive informed IT decision-making.
Without a solid plan and the right sets of processes, it is very difficult to manage the wide breadth of IT components in modern IT environments. The starting point for solving the “we-don’t-know-what-we-don’t-know” problem is making sure you understand the pieces that must be part of your ITAM processes and begin working towards improving their effectiveness and efficiency. If successful, then your IT asset management program can help you reduce maintenance costs, use licenses more efficiently, increase asset utilization and better manage security risks. It can also help you prepare for compliance audits and increase the efficiency of other ITIL processes.
The good news is companies and industries around the globe are all trying to improve their IT asset management efficiency and, as they do, many best practices are emerging that can help your company face this challenge more effectively.
The primary goal of IT asset management is to establish and maintain a centralized asset repository that contains a complete, current and accurate inventory of all the IT assets in your organization. This information will help you understand:
By improving your company’s IT asset management maturity, you will have better quality information available to drive IT decision-making. Some examples of where companies realize value from their IT asset data include:
Having current and accurate information about your assets helps your company’s leaders make better informed decisions. As your company grows (and naturally during time), the number of assets required to support your business operations and users increases. The more assets you have, the more complex your IT asset management picture becomes and the more difficult it is to understand, which leads to larger financial-impact inefficiencies.
Well-run IT asset management programs with robust processes and the right systems supporting them can provide your IT organization with greater scalability. A good IT-asset-tracking process will help you track and maintain assets automatically as changes occur in the IT environment. Significant overhead costs of manual inventory and audit activities are saved and it provides better quality data to support activities, such as incident management, provisioning and evaluating the impact of proposed changes. IT asset management can also help your company plan for seasonal demands of IT capacity. Every company has business cycles (examples are holiday periods in retail, financial-year-end reporting and business surges due to new product launches). IT asset management can help you understand your available resources and their use and forecast the capacity needed to support projected business demand.
A project is a temporary endeavor to achieve a specific outcome. IT asset management should not be thought of as a temporary endeavor – it is an operational function and set of processes that must always be present in your IT organization to produce meaningful and sustainable value. That isn’t to say projects aren’t useful tools to achieve your IT asset management goals. Best practices suggest your company should leverage ITAM processes, tools, and operational functions to drive long-term value and ITAM-related projects to make targeted improvements to your ITAM maturity.
An effective ITAM function should include an IT asset management repository, data on both hardware and software components, and a set of processes for maintaining that data. At the most basic level, an ITAM function must perform the following activities:
Discovering all hardware and software components in the IT environment and recording them in the asset management system. As new components are introduced, they are added to the asset inventory. Data capture includes identifying both the object and the supplemental information that supports decision-making.
Identifying and tracking changes of the location of assets, increases or decreases of the number of assets, changes in asset use and updates of the asset-lifecycle status. IT environments are constantly changing, and IT asset records require continuous updates to remain current and accurate.
Tracking asset-lifecycle data from requisitioning, purchase and assignment to retirement and decommissioning. The value of an asset changes throughout its lifecycle, so maintaining current lifecycle data is key to asset efficiency.
Generating asset-inventory reports and alerts on asset changes and lifecycle-related activities that require attention. IT asset management can help drive decisions, not just support them.
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IT asset management projects should be designed as short-term efforts to improve one or more of the parts of your ITAM function, to improve the quality of your ITAM data (such as an audit) or improve the tools you use to manage your IT asset records. Best practices suggest ITAM projects should be chartered with a limited scope, clearly defined milestones/timelines and well-understood success criteria. ITAM projects that fail are usually due to scope ambiguity or the project being tasked with too many objectives.
One of the key components of IT asset management is managing the asset lifecycle. Each asset progresses through a series of lifecycle stages from the time it is procured and provisioned through use and upgrades, eventually ending with retirement and either removal or replacement. Companies may define lifecycle stages in different ways or using different terms, but IT asset management best practices suggest your company should have a clearly defined asset lifecycle that is used consistently throughout your IT organization.
IT asset management policies and processes should be tied to asset-lifecycle stages. For example, you might have a set of policies and processes about what assets can be procured and introduced into the IT environment. You might have a separate set of processes for managing upgrades and making changes to assets’ uses. Policies and processes are the tools for driving efficiency, transparency and value throughout the asset lifecycle.
It is important to track the complete lifecycle of assets. Many companies struggle with this task. As an asset progresses through its lifecycle stages, different teams may be involved in making decisions about it and asset records may be present in multiple IT systems. Effective IT asset management requires gathering all the asset-management-lifecycle components into an integrated set of processes and a consistent set of data. This enables big-picture visibility and the data needed to drive management insights critical to decision-making.
Another important lifecycle-management activity is tracking the state of assets carefully – ensuring any change in an asset’s status, its use or the costs it is incurring are reflected in your IT asset management repository. There are many forces in your IT environment that can impact the cost and potential value of an asset. Informed decision-making requires complete, current and accurate asset data.
It is important you know all you can about your assets. You must capture as much asset information as possible to help you drive critical decisions during the future. The first step is to discover the assets in your IT environment. There are many methods to identify your IT assets, including:
Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages. Selecting the right method for your unique needs requires a clear understanding of the data you are trying to capture, the types of components in your IT environment and how current your data must be. Automated approaches are often much quicker and provide more accurate and real-time data, but are prone to missing unexpected assets. Manual processes are more likely to encounter asset exceptions but can be costly and time-consuming to perform (a manual-asset audit in a data center may take weeks). Best practices suggest the best way to inventory your assets is to use a combination of multiple techniques for a balanced perspective of both breadth and depth.
IT asset data is comprised of 2 components: lists of items and the relationships between them. Capturing relationships is equally (if not more) important than capturing the lists. Many companies have found that focusing on dependency mapping is a more effective method to identify meaningful information about assets than discovery tools that focus only on capturing lists of assets (and associated attributes). This is because dependency relationships provide insights into 2 or more assets (instead of just 1) and provide the context of why the assets are connected. The context information is essential for making informed asset-management decisions.
A configuration management database (CMDB) is a virtual replica of your organization’s IT environment. It is the repository where you should store all your asset-related data. By using your CMDB effectively, your asset information will not only be available to support ITAM processes but also easily accessible to other ITSM processes (such as incident and change management) that must access it.
The biggest challenge of IT asset management is keeping asset records updated as the IT environment evolves. Business decisions, system upgrades, new technology developments and users changing job roles can all have an impact on how assets are used and the value they create for the organization. Some of these changes can be captured through ITSM workflows, such as change management and release management while capturing other changes (such as business re-organizations) require surveying the broader environment where your IT assets operate.
Best practices suggest that to keep IT asset data complete, accurate and current, you should leverage a combination of automated-discovery capabilities, workflow triggers, and periodic manual reviews. There are 4 key change-management activities that should be included in your ITAM program:
Whenever a new asset is added to the IT environment, it is likely to impact the use of other assets. Workflow triggers in your procurement-and-provisioning processes can alert you to the introduction of new assets, and these events can then be correlated with changes observed in monitoring data.
Operational-monitoring capabilities provide real-time insights into the usage of IT assets. Some companies have even implemented telemetry that shows what users are accessing a system and/or what functions or workflows they are using. Changes in asset utilization are indicators that some sort of change has occurred in the business environment that could impact the ROI or lifecycle of the asset.
It is important to maintain records of assets’ intended use and who is assigned to use them. This is particularly true with components, such as desktops, printers, phones and other IT assets that are easily moved. While asset theft is a problem, an even bigger challenge is unauthorized re-provisioning of assets without informing the IT department. Missing assets that have been moved or re-purposed can lead to significant maintenance costs and security risks during the future.
Software licenses should be reviewed regularly to ensure the company is neither over-paying for unused resources or using software that isn’t covered by a valid license or subscription. Since most software licenses must be renewed periodically, aligning asset-record updates to the renewal cycle is often effective.
IT asset management is a data-driven activity. Much of ITAM’s focus is creating and managing asset data; however, it is the consumption of ITAM data to support decision-making where an organization reaps the benefit from its various ITAM investments. Both raw asset data and curated metrics are important in providing IT leaders the big-picture landscape and actionable details needed to make decisions about how to utilize IT assets effectively.
Each IT organization will have a unique set of data and metric needs based on the types of questions leaders are trying to answer. The metrics themselves are less important than the usefulness of the information to drive actual decisions. Often, ITAM programs start either without any specifically defined objectives or with a long list of metrics leaders think should be tracked without any actual idea of the metrics’ use. IT asset management best practices suggest companies should leverage metrics and reports that are included in the box with their ITAM software as a starting point, and then define additional organization-specific metrics and reports to address specific operational or decision-support needs.
Companies should also leverage 3 different types of data views to support IT asset management. Each of these types of data views provides a unique perspective of your IT asset landscape and ITAM processes. Selecting the right view can make a big difference in the usability of data.
It is important to establish specific goals/issues you want your ITAM program and supporting projects to address. Without being able to articulate clearly the goals you are trying to achieve, it is difficult to identify which metrics will be most effective in helping you achieve those goals. For continuous ITAM programs, exception reports are also a very useful tool. Sometimes, exceptions to processes and unusual data provide the most meaningful and actionable improvement insights.
Every IT leader wants to believe he or she has solid processes in place to enforce technology standards and control the assets present in the IT environment. Asset governance doesn’t just happen, however, it must be designed into your ITAM program and enforced through policies, processes, controls and periodic reviews.
IT asset management governance starts with chartered authority of the ITAM program and the sponsorship of an influential leader in the organization. Without sponsorship and authority, business groups, individual employees and IT teams will feel empowered to make their own technology decisions and procure assets and resources outside the standards and processes the company defines. This leads to a proliferation of shadow IT and a loss of control over both technology spending and other elements, such as security and privacy assurance.
Once governance authority has been established, IT asset management policies and processes are used to establish guidelines, standards, and restrictions for the intended use and management of technology assets throughout the company. These policies and processes are often implemented with the help of procurement systems and process workflows that enforce pre-defined business rules.
Compliance is an important part of IT asset management. Compliance requires a complete picture of all of the devices in the IT environment. Basic IT asset management processes are designed to make visible those assets added to the environment through approved channels. ITAM often struggles to gain visibility of devices introduced outside the purchasing process. Examples include shadow-IT projects and employee-owned personal devices being used in the workplace. Companies are often liable for software compliance and data-privacy assurance, for example, for all IT components that support their business, regardless of how the component was procured. IT asset management best practices suggest designing processes is not sufficient to ensure compliance, particularly when exception processes and “loopholes” exist that enable people to bypass asset-management controls. Continuous monitoring of the assets in the IT environment to detect the introduction of unauthorized assets in addition to periodic reviews of asset usage, location and ownership are needed to provide a comprehensive governance picture.
Many companies still manage their IT asset inventory using manual, paper-intensive processes. These processes are prone to inaccuracy, are time-consuming, can be a significant drain on resources and disrupt the organization. Advancements in discovery, monitoring, and workflow-orchestration technology in addition to asset-tagging tools, such as barcodes, RFID and GPS, provide a tremendous opportunity to use automation to track assets.
IT asset management software (part of many ITSM platforms) provide a robust set of tools for defining ITAM processes, managing asset data and analyzing asset data for actionable insights. IT asset management best practices suggest the use of automation whenever possible to manage repetitive/high-volume activities and to eliminate the need for manual data collection and reconciliation. Utilizing automation is an opportunity to identify and record changes to asset records and relationships as soon as the underlying asset changes – eliminating the time delay associated with manual inventory and update activities.
IT asset management is more than a project. IT is not a temporary endeavor, it is a continuous operational function and set of critical processes, which are at the heart of your company’s ITSM function. ITAM should be addressed proactively through process design, automation, controls, and periodic audits, rather than reactively, when there is a security issue or compliance audit.
Many companies continue to make the mistake of not fully implementing asset-management practices and embedding them into the company culture and work methods. They start an ITAM initiative because of a particular situation, but once the issue is resolved, they return to their old practices until the next issue arrives. This is a costly mistake, as best practices show keeping asset data clean, correct and current is much cheaper than cleaning messes repeatedly. Technology is a significant investment for modern companies. Leveraging IT asset management best practices can help you use your IT assets more effectively, reduce maintenance and operational costs and minimize your security and risk exposure.
The goal of IT asset management is to assure the use of IT assets generates business value and to ensure IT risks are mitigated to the best of your organization’s capabilities. When you keep track of your assets in your IT environment and know their use and their cost, your leaders will be better prepared to make decisions about how to manage the company’s IT needs for today and plan for the needs of the future.
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