Asset Management in the Era of SARS-CoV-2

ITIL organizations are focusing on Asset Management in the era of SARS-CoV-2. Let’s examine this by thinking about your household. 

 

You manage the assets in your household. Think about your groceries. They are assets you manage daily because we all must eat. You need to know what you have and don’t have. You need to understand the associated costs as well—Costs for purchase, costs for storage, and costs for spoilage if you don’t cook in time! Now think about how that process (and we will call it that) has changed in just the past few weeks. 

 

The global pandemic has changed much for everyone, but specifically when it comes to groceries. Now trips out for groceries can be dangerous. It's no longer adequate to “hit the store” without a list. And because the store is likely to be out of things, that list must persist. Anything leftover on the list must go on a new list for next time. Remember, they won’t be out of toilet paper forever.

 

Living in the era of SARS-CoV-2 has changed life for everyone. Some things, like Asset Management, aren’t changed but its need is highlighted. Think of the workforce you support. Most everyone is remote today. This greatly increases demand on your network and the need to secure it. Assets are not necessarily “in the office” as they have been up to this point or, everyone is trying to replace their desktop with a laptop and at roughly the same time.

These changes may or may not be with us for the foreseeable future. No one knows, but if there is one constant you can count on, it is change itself. 

How can you manage that change? 

How can you manage during that change? 

The practice of IT Asset Management provides an answer to those questions.

The International Association of IT Asset Management (iaitam.org) defines asset management this way:

“IT Asset Management (ITAM) is a set of business practices that incorporates IT assets across the business units within the organization.”

If ITAM is a set of business practices (or processes) what is it managing, at a high level? Asset Management can be considered a marriage between the physical and the financial. At its core, Asset Management is stock management…what you’ve got, where its located, and who’s responsible. Those elements we will call the physical. But Asset Management is more because it includes the financial with cost and contract information. Best practices arise from the implementation and management of the processes related to these two “branches” and the resulting metrics and business intelligence from a marriage of the two. Let’s consider each with a series of questions.

 

PHYSICAL Elements

“What do I have?” is the central basis of ITAM. All IT equipment (both physical and virtual) and software are IT assets. This includes modern devices like mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Organizations that lack comprehensive ITAM solutions most likely have this information on spreadsheets. Bill has one for his desktops. Sue has one for her servers. Anne covers laptops and mobile devices. None have the same data elements, and all are missing costs.

Required data elements can vary depending on the level of maturity of your ITAM program. These attributes can be tedious to gather and maintain, but they are critical for providing your Service Desk necessary CI information from a CMDB. These data elements are the specific items a Service Desk will use to help troubleshoot issues and understand the root cause.  

Discovery tools are a shortcut to see what is on the network and collect these data elements. They are vital for a comprehensive ITAM program, but they are just part of the equation. Each source should be used to begin the journey as well as incorporated into your ITAM program on an ongoing basis. ITAM is not just a discipline, it’s an ongoing process.  

 

Disparate spreadsheets are not a best practice, but they will be a starting point. Bringing those data sources together in a unified solution begins to provide needed visibility. Organizations can understand what is deployed vs “in stock.” Discovery tools can help with deployed hardware and software assets but not stock assets or available software entitlements. These data sources, when combined, constitute an organization's asset estate.

Visibility into the asset estate is critical and should include offerings, or those assets you wish to offer (and support) in your environment. Creating a catalog of offerings provides governance to your ITAM program so that you can streamline all asset-related processes. Reorder Points for each catalog offering provides a checkpoint to compare stock levels against a set level, below which you wish to be alerted.

 

“Where is it located?”  Assets are always somewhere, right? Deployed assets are in offices, cubes, or other areas. Stock assets are kept in storage locations like closets and cages. Asset Managers need to know where to get a specific asset for fulfillment. The Service Desk must know where to deliver the asset once you have fulfilled the request. If there is a problem, technicians must know where to go for troubleshooting. Remember, the location may be a physical place (e.g. office, closet) or virtual (e.g. IP, MAC, Subnet) when you consider remote support.

 

It is important for all who interact with any ITAM program to understand the “Where” for any asset, including those on order. End-user customers have begun to raise expectations at work based on what is happening at home. Understanding that an ordered asset is in transit to its destination is just as important at work as it is at home—Call it the “Amazon Effect.”

  

A proper ITAM program will incorporate order status information because it is the start point for any “where is it located" questions that might occur during an asset’s life cycle. This information provides a more seamless online ordering experience for your customers and support experience for your staff. Organizations that “shift left” set expectations by providing the information customers expect to receive and use. Information is the coin of the realm for your staff and providing what is needed when it is needed to who needs it ensures their support for your ITAM program.

 

“Who’s responsible for it?”  Understanding who is responsible for a specific asset is critical from procurement to disposal. Initially, an Asset Manager or Analyst will be responsible for any procurement. Customers and staff will appreciate knowing that Bill is in charge of the desktop or Sue in charge of the server. Procurement responsibility defines who begins the life cycle process and is responsible for the initial data capture for any “new” assets.

 

Once an asset is deployed, the Service Desk will need to know who to contact if there is a problem. Is that person a VIP? What other tickets have we had for this person? This asset? Ownership of deployed assets provides a point of contact for troubleshooting activities. Ownership of deployed assets can also be an element of the Financial side which we will discuss later. Ownership, or responsible party, also can refer to an SME within your organization for the specific asset. This SME will be invaluable in the root-cause analysis if trouble rises to the level of a problem. Knowledge can be shared within your organization from the SME, but you must define that person to schedule a training session!

 

FINANCIAL Elements

We can refer to the Physical Elements of ITAM as merely Stock Management. ITAM is completed or realized when we incorporate Financial Elements or Fiscal Management. These elements have their own set of questions they answer.

 

“Who sells what we buy?”  Vendor Management answers this question but, notice the wording. It is NOT “from whom do we buy.” Stated another way, this question could be “from whom COULD we buy.” That is a very different question. It includes those from whom you purchase but it also includes alternatives. What do you do when an asset is needed, and your preferred vendor is back-ordered? 

Vendor Management allows you to understand your preferred vendors as well as “backups” and makes the process of ordering from one or the other seamless. Vendor Management includes all elements necessary for managing a vendor. Your organization will want to track which items from your offerings are available from the vendor including price. Also, interactions with a vendor should be scored and tracked so you can understand how any specific interaction transpired. These specific interactions should then roll up to an overall score for the vendor for all interactions.

 

“What have we agreed to pay?” Vendors will have a price, but your organization will have contracts with vendors that will impact prices. Contract Management is a primary focus of Vendor Management. Contracts include language that governs pricing and interactions with a vendor. Management of this data, including notification BEFORE contract expiration, is critical to any ITAM program. Proactive notification, comprehensive contract data, and Vendor Scorecards together provide the necessary foundation for proper Contract Management. 

 

Contract Management is necessary for budgeting purposes. When your organization lacks set pricing with vendors, those prices are subject to market forces which means change. Change is an elusive item to include in a budget. Contracts govern pricing and delivery over a defined period providing necessary data for future state budgeting.

 

“What did we buy and how did we get it?” ITAM goes beyond what was purchased; this question is answered by an organization’s procurement process. Procurement should either be integrated with your ITAM program (when handled by outside business unit) or integral to your stand along ITAM program.

 

Procurement Management includes the Purchase, Shipment, and Receipt elements of any request. Each are individually important points along an asset’s life cycle. Managing the Purchase enables organizations to understand necessary cost elements that are critical to understanding the Total Cost of Ownership and budgeting.

 

Purchase orders can originate where it is logical in your organization but if that information is in a separate system it should be integrated with the ITAM program’s solution so that ITAM staff have a single source of truth for everything relative to the assets they manage.

 

Purchases can initiate from a service request. Organizations should utilize an integrated ITAM/ITSM solution so that service requests can be easily converted or viewed as asset requests that, when inventory is not available for the fulfillment, a Purchase Order can be created seamlessly. 

If procurement is with a different business unit, the ITAM PO should be integrated with the procurement system so that it can be completed in that system. Updates from the Procurement system would keep the Asset team informed of the progress through integrated status updates.

 

Shipment Management enables expectations to be properly set with your end-user customers. Shipment tracking information provides the first answers to “where” that was described above in Physical Elements and serves as an alert for the next area, Receipt Management.  

Managing asset receipts is the first step in managing the Physical elements for any asset and understanding the “What do I have” question above. Receipt Management can occur manually, via imports or integrations. Scanners can help with the process but there is a lot of information to capture. Anything that can be gathered through imports or vendor integration should. The final details can then be captured and reconciled with a discovery tool.

 

BENEFITS of Marriage

As with life, there are benefits of marriage. Bringing together the Physical and Financial elements of ITAM provides many benefits. Likely though, it may look overwhelming. 

The next question is more of an exclamation, “this is a lot of data!”  And it is. The best ITAM programs tightly integrate with other systems, both internal and external. 

Many large vendors, with names you will instantly recognize, provide the means to integrate PO, Shipments, Receipts, Catalog Offerings, and more. The more information or data elements you track regarding these assets, the more robust your ITAM program. Get as much of this electronically as possible.

 

“Where will we use this data?”  This data is the core of the CMDB. Information gathered and assigned during the Asset Management process not only provides the necessary foundation for the benefits listed below but is the core dataset necessary for the Service Desk to perform Root Cause Analysis.

 

Understanding attributes, connections, and utilization are critical for troubleshooting service outages. If we consider this the “physical” use of the data, what is the “financial” use of it? In a word, cost. The marriage of the physical and financial provides the necessary information to determine the Total Cost of Ownership and other financial calculations explored below.  

 

“How does what we bought reconcile with what we discovered?” Read that question again. Does what is discovered in an environment agree with what was purchased? This is a security question but also a cost question. 

 

From a security perspective, what is on the network that shouldn’t be there? From a cost perspective think about Software Licenses. Are more licenses deployed and functioning (both matter separately!) than have been purchased? In other words, is utilization higher than entitlement? All critical questions an ITAM program must be able to answer.

Reconciliation also serves as a checkpoint on data validity. It ensures that what is entered agrees with what is discovered.

 

Periodic reconciliation is an ITAM best practice. Reconciliation ensures that the ITAM data set is the most recent, most accurate data available to an organization.

 

“Where has it been or how has it been used?” An asset’s life cycle path is key to understanding much about it. Any following question concerning cost needs to understand the life cycle of the asset in question. The Physical side of this equation needs to know where an asset is located…this cube, that closet, or this office. Understanding how it has been utilized by the organization is key to understanding useful life and begins to help answer future offering questions regarding the need to continue support for an asset, the need for a suitable replacement or retirement.

 

“Is it worth it?” Total Cost of Ownership is the answer to this question. An asset’s life cycle is critical to understanding TCO, but less from a specific asset perspective and more from an offering perspective. “Were THESE offerings utilized fully” by the organization. It is also helpful to understand a specific’s business unit's needs and costs when viewed more granularly.

 

TCO is more than just purchase costs. Regular maintenance and updates can generate costs that must be captured on an individual asset basis. Typically, this would occur in a Service Desk system, but that information would be integrated with the ITAM program’s solution so that all cost elements are available within the ITAM solution for analysis and review.

 

“How do we control costs?”  Following the best practices here, organizations are enabled to better understand their environment, both physically and financially. It's been said that you “can’t expect what you can’t inspect.” Visibility into the physical and financial elements enables IT business units to control costs in several ways. 

 

The first is through the governance of offerings and not offering anything that consumes more time than necessary to support. Focusing a catalog of offerings and reducing the number of options reduces support and implementation costs. TCO intelligence allows solutions to be compared and analyzed from multiple levels. It allows a specific business unit to understand their costs but also it allows IT organizations to make fact-based financial choices on the offerings that will be provided. Visibility and insight into cost provide the basis for the answer to the next question.

 

“What will we spend next year?”  Budget Forecasting is critical for any organization. Planning for next year’s expenses is critical and can’t be performed without visibility. In ITAM, that is visibility into the answers to the questions discussed above. Understanding how assets are utilized, their TCO, and comparing that to plans for the next year, including contract pricing, can serve as the foundation for an IT budget.

 

“How can we increase customer satisfaction?”  Up to this point, the focus has been more internal. This question is focused externally. Any new initiative within an organization has 2 general areas that must be addressed…how does it impact the bottom line and how does it impact the customers. Providing consistent, defined processes for requesting, purchasing, receiving, fulfilling, and deploying assets begins to drive customer satisfaction.

 

ITAM enables a better understanding of availability for both staff and customers. When the customer understands when something is available (and not), when expectations are consistently, regularly defined and met, customer SAT scores are increased. This is key to any “shift left” in an organization.

In short, the marriage between the Physical and Financial aspects of Asset Management brings visibility. Visibility brings control, governance, and defined expectations. An ITAM program can drive both hard and soft cost savings as well as customer satisfaction just by incorporating these best practices and realizing the level of visibility described here. Organizations shouldn’t feel a need to go from zero to sixty out of the gate. The processes and practices presented here are a goal that IT Asset Management organizations should strive to reach.

 

Savings can be realized along the way to this goal, but the true benefits come from the full lifecycle approach where your organization and staff can understand what you have, where it is located, who is responsible, what it cost, and all the questions covered above. Visibility provides the answers that the help desk needs when they are troubleshooting a problem. It provides the answers that IT needs to budget properly for the coming fiscal year.

 

Don’t consider this document comprehensive! IAITAM has much more detailed documentation available. Consider this an overview to get you thinking as you answer these last two questions for yourself. How has your asset management demands changed since the start of the year? How would an ITAM best practice program benefit my organization?

By Bobby McCullough | August 20th, 2020 | 0 Comments

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