Fewer than one-quarter of all enterprises practice good IT asset management, according to one estimate. But the other 75 percent might want to pause before buying one of the many IT asset management solutions now available, for while the benefits can be impressive, effective ITAM takes more than just a fancy piece of software.
The first time that Salem Five Savings Bank tried to assemble a complete inventory of its information technology assets, the bank's IT staff went through a manual exercise of counting desktop computers and laptops and recording the software running on each machine. Trouble was, the inventory was essentially out of date upon completion. "It was as stale as it could be right after we did it," admits bank's chief information officer, Dawn Dillon. Facing a key decision on how the bank would license its computer software, the CIO gave up on the manual process and elected instead to enter the brave new world of IT asset management.
Few Mature Implementations
IT asset management (ITAM) has around for years, but surprisingly mature ITAM programs are the exception these days, according to Patricia Adams, senior analyst for technology consultancy Gartner and a specialist in IT asset management. Gartner has estimated that fewer than one-quarter of all enterprises worldwide have an effective IT asset management program in place, and a study by the consultancy found "marginal practices" for managing hardware assets at fully 90 percent of a group of audited corporate sites. The price of these poor practices can be substantial, raising the total cost of ownership for hardware assets alone by 7 to 10 percent annually, according to Gartner.
Software tools for IT asset management fall into three categories. So-called "autodiscovery" or inventory tools are applications that prowl through a company's IT infrastructure to identify desktops computers, laptops, printers and network equipment, as well as operating systems and other software, and to collect such basic information as the manufacturer of an asset, its installed components and capabilities, or the names, serial numbers and versions of installed software.
Repository applications store information on assets, including data collected by the autodiscovery tools and information that may be input manually or pulled from other enterprise systems, such as purchase date and price, leasing terms and deadlines, licensing and warranty information, or the asset's assigned end user and service provider.
Finally, software usage tools can provide reports on how certain applications are being used, who is using them and how often, information that a CIO could use, for instance, to ensure that a company is actually using all the applications for which it is paying maintenance costs.
Benefits and Challenges
Examples of the potential benefits of effective ITAM include better software license compliance — ensuring that a company has paid for all the applications on its computers. On the other hand, uncovering applications that are not being used can allow a company to trim its maintenance fees. A repository tool can provide alerts when hardware leases are due to expire, helping a company avoid late-return penalties.
ITAM can help CIOs plan budgets more effectively by providing insights into potential costs coming six or 12 months down the road as leases expire or service agreements come up for renewal. Companies also could use its inventory information to weed out one-off configurations, moving employees to a defined set of standard hardware and software configurations, simplifying IT procurement and support. Overall, Gartner has estimated that effective ITAM could save a company between 20 and 40 percent "per seat" per year.
Getting to those benefits, however, requires more than simply installing a piece of software. In fact, analysts warn that successful IT asset management is mostly about process. "Getting the process right is critical," says David Friedlander, an industry analyst with consultancy Giga Information Group. "It's all about making sure information is being entered in a timely fashion, comes from the right sources, is available to the right people and can be extracted as needed."