When I was little I had a piggy bank complete with a requisite combination lock (needed to keep my younger brother from pilfering). Each week, on Friday night when I got my 50 cent allowance, I would lock myself in my bedroom, twist and turn the combination until I got it right and then I counted my prized stash of cash. I always knew exactly how much it would amount to, but I counted it nonetheless. My brother, on the other hand, never used his piggy bank; he put his quarters in his pockets and generally lost them within a few days.
Over time, I began to earn more money through babysitting and odd jobs, but the ritual never changed lock the door, open the safe and re-count my money. As I reflect, I think about the time I wasted re-counting my money but I also remember the delight I experienced each time as I dreamed and planned how to spend my dough! It would have been great to push a button and have a piggy bank statement printed at any time confirming that my money was where it should be and how much I had available. It would have been better still to earn piggy interest on my quarters! That would be real optimization!
These memories came flooding back to me when I was pondering the topic of IT Asset Management and how ineffectively some businesses track and manage PCs and other IT equipment. Demands for increased staff productivity and greater return on IT investments have pushed the need for better asset management and vital solutions.
Recently, I sat in the office of a large organization discussing this very subject with an IT manager. When I asked him if he had ever analyzed the use of software in his organization his reply was We dont really care if the software deployed on our standard image is used or not, its just easier to support if we give everyone all of the applications.
I shook my head; Ive heard this rational before, in fact, Ive used it myself in the past. What Ive learned since then has changed my way of thinking regarding costs and efficiencies.
Some IT managers believe that software licensing concerns are simplest to address by using a standard corporate image (a PC configured with standard software applications deployed to all users within the corporation). While it may seem simpler, one must ask what happens to standardization once that PC has been delivered to the end user? Ill tell you, in many organizations the end user immediately begins to alter the standard image to the point there is no longer any homogeny within the business assets.
My second question is this, why pay for software that isnt needed or used? Besides, why on earth would you continue to pay expensive maintenance on software that isnt beneficial to the company? Experts estimate that optimizing maintenance contracts can save a business from 5% to 15%. When was the last time you got a budget or salary increase in the 5-15% range?
According to The Gartner Group, enterprises that fail to integrate usage and inventory data to manage its software assets will overbuy licenses for 60% of their portfolio and still be non-compliant on 30%. With proper usage information, managers can make informed and more effective decisions about the needs of end users as well as the use of resources.
For example, one company recently monitored employee use of a particularly expensive software package. They discovered that, although the product was licensed and deployed to all users, only about 2/3 of the staff ever used it. In addition, it was discovered that an inexpensive emulator was a suitable replacement for all but the core power users. The results were savings of nearly a million dollars! I would say, certainly in this case, that end-user usage information can be very valuable to an IT manager. What's more, these are the types of savings that would make any CEO dance the rumba!
Additionally, Gartner experts estimate that up to 30% of an IT budget could be saved by effective IT asset management. Further, that 70% of organizations have a 30% discrepancy between planned and actual IT inventory. Ouch that hurts! Why not use that 30% to increase budgets for training, salaries, upgrades and new projects?
Besides software licensing and maintenance agreement savings, there are a host of additional benefits stemming from successful IT asset management. Every IT manager would benefit from saving time and effort expended planning for technology upgrades of any size. For years, most of us have tracked our assets in a spreadsheet, desperately hoping that it contained fairly accurate information.
When it came time to prepare for an upgrade, usually the low man on the totem pole (or an outside temp) was tasked with verifying the accuracy of the spreadsheet data. This method generally entailed walking from machine to machine checking against a list of criteria. The entire endeavor was painfully slow, dreadfully inaccurate and miserably inefficient, but hey - great exercise for the temp!
Once the data was gathered, a manual method was used to determine which machines needed what hardware and software. Once that task was completed one could price out the upgrades, prepare a budget for management approval and hope there wasnt noticeable margin of error. Yea, sure better add 10% just in case!
I really like living in the new millennium, the whole exercise of gathering data on IT assets has been revolutionized. Now, in a matter of a few mouse clicks, a good asset management application can provide up to the minute information needed to plan for an upgrade. Not only can these tools provide information on hardware, but also software versions, patches, etc. Having accurate data available in a dynamic system proves to be a huge forecasting timesaver and can also be used, among other things, to reduce virus incidents by identifying systems that are at risk. Besides planning for upgrades, simply keeping track of assets that seem to forever grow legs and walk away on their own can be a daunting task.
Another bright spot for IT managers who use asset management tools effectively is improved efficiency at the help desk. IDC reported that downtime can be reduced by 10% and person hours on recovery can be reduced by 22% for businesses that practice good asset management. I read another figure that touted a 25% reduction in average help desk call time. This enables the closing of more trouble tickets per day and gets end users back to work faster.
I certainly remember the days when a help desk call started out with questions such as What type of PC do you have? What version of Windows are you running? Did you install anything new recently? And if youre laughing now, its because you know the answer is always NO! I havent installed anything! End users never admit to installing or doing something that could have possibly caused their system to misbehave!
With todays tools, support staff can easily view hardware and software configurations without any end user interaction thus saving time on each and every support call. Having this IT x-ray vision debunks the myth that standard images are easier to support because a standard image generally fails to remain standard after deployment. Being able to see what has happened to morph that PC really does make support easier and faster!
Secondly, most good tools will provide a history or a change flag that can clearly identify what software changes have been made that might have triggered the problem. This feature can also be enlisted to enforce policies prohibiting users from installing unauthorized software onto their assigned systems. In the event of serious troubles, these records can provide valuable forensic evidence.
Moreover, good asset management tools and techniques can actually prevent the need for a support call in the first place by allowing for proactive PC management. If a flaw or vulnerability is identified in a particular software version, those affected PCs can easily be identified, isolated and a fix or patch pushed out before the problem erupts.
This proactive approach certainly beats the tar out of the old fashioned method of grab a disk and run when a caller reports a system failure. And it truly beats hearing the words its going to be a long night, better order in dinner, weve got to touch every machine before we can go home. How many pizza dinners in a row can your digestive system actually tolerate?
In general, businesses will see significant benefit from using an efficient asset management tool (in addition to an effective underlying process) in the areas of software licensing, maintenance costs, lease and contract management, support and help desk efficiencies, reduction in vulnerabilities and even with asset disposal concerns. (See my earlier article regarding IT asset disposal for a list of those worries!)
To get the most out of an asset management tool, carefully research the array of products available. Dont be penny wise and pound foolish by merely selecting the least expensive or most widely recognized products. Every IT environment is unique and requires tools that can adapt to, or blend with, those specific needs.
To get started on the selection process, create a company-wide team to evaluate asset management tools. Enlist the input from each department that has any role in relation to IT assets. The team should include members from finance, purchasing, accounting, IT, security, training, risk management, etc.
A good tool can and should help manage assets throughout the entire lifecycle cradle to grave. Consider what tool features would make it easier, faster and more accurate to budget, purchase, receive, deliver, upgrade, support, use and retire an IT asset. Once your team is in place, create a list of the top 25 features and benefits desired in a tool. Create a list of tool vendors offering products that meet your criteria and arrange for an on-site demo of the product for the whole team (not just IT).
At this point, hopefully, between face to face meetings with the vendor, the demo, addressing compatibility issues and pricing options, a short list of tools will emerge. Arrange for an on-site evaluation of at least two, perhaps three of the preferred tools. Assign specific roles to each team member in the evaluation process to ensure that all functions are fully experienced.
Once a tool has been selected, dont dare cheap out on training! At least one, preferably two, staff members should receive thorough training on the use and support of the product. Consider hiring an experienced professional to install, configure and document the program. Lost time due to inexperienced staff struggling to learn a product can quickly sabotage any project. Further, an experienced professional will be able to optimize the tool configuration and reporting functions.
An asset management tool can be a costly investment for any organization, but one which if installed properly and used efficiently, will provide for reduced cost of ownership for IT assets and such tools generally provide a positive return on investment within 12-24 months as well. When you add the benefits of increased staff efficiency and reduction of risk into the mix, the justifications for the expense will be well founded.
What is being done to manage IT assets in your organization? Are you continually tossing your IT budget dollars into metaphorical pockets or are you keeping accurate tabs on those valuables? Moreover, what has been done to not only track and manage the IT assets, but to optimize the return on those investments?
Donna Johnson Edwards has more than 20 years' experience implementing and managing IT projects for companies including the Federal Judiciary, IBM/Lotus and Hamilton Beach Proctor-Silex, where she was the senior member of the New Enterprise Technology Team.
Her clients include Fortune 100, 500 and 1,000 companies as well as not-for-profit entities. Her background includes both the technical and the business aspects of IT projects.latin music artists