We’ve Always Needed IT Asset Management. COVID-19 Is a Wake-Up Call.

Posted by on May 29, 2020

ITAM remote work

There’s nothing like a good crisis to make you take stock of your IT assets. Remember Y2K, when it looked like data would disappear overnight? Or the 2001 tech bubble? The terror attacks on 9/11? The market crash in 2008? Or this year’s pandemic, which has sent workers home—accompanied by their companies’ hardware and software? With each crisis, IT asset management has risen in prominence, almost as if it were being discovered for the first time.  

But IT asset management (ITAM) actually began to take form in the 1980s, says Jeff Kelsey, Cherwell Software’s Director of IT Asset Management Product Management, as the personal computer hit corporate desktops and brought with it a new ecosystem of related devices such as printers and modems. While there was no standard ITAM framework at the time, companies recognized the need to monitor their assets and built their own tracking systems accordingly.

It was Y2K, Kelsey says, that served as the catalyst for the emergence of ITAM as a more formalized discipline and a must-have for burgeoning IT departments. “Y2K was the trigger, the before-and-after comparison point for how companies managed their IT assets,” he says. “It presented an ironclad deadline to determine whether hardware and software were Y2K compatible and had to be upgraded or replaced. Companies were forced to take inventory and analyze their asset stocks much more precisely.”

Since then, Kelsey adds, “ITAM has evolved over time, and it’s become an established contributor to IT service management programs. Its perceived importance has ebbed and flowed in waves correlating with big events and economic conditions. When the economy’s strong and companies have money to spend, for example, they tend to be more complacent and less vigilant. In tight times like recessions and today’s COVID-19 environment, they batten down the hatches and focus on cutting costs and squeezing the most out of what they have.”

Working Remotely Ups the ITAM Ante

The current excitement surrounding ITAM stems from perhaps the biggest change in the workplace as a result of COVID-19: the massive shift to working remotely. Asset management programs have had to reach an unprecedented scale to cover not only remote employees’ company-provided hardware and software, but also their personal devices and apps that end up interfacing with company equipment.

The potential benefits of a sound ITAM approach in the remote context are both many and impressive. They include more effective purchasing and disposal decisions, improved security, lower maintenance costs, optimized use of licenses, greater automation of asset-related processes, fewer item redundancies, higher budgeting accuracy, stronger readiness for asset audits, and more.

But are ITAM systems up to the remote-scale challenge? Data from a recent survey of IT professionals by IT services provider Ivanti suggest that all is not as it should be. For example:

  • 43 percent of respondents still used manual spreadsheets to help track assets.
  • 56 percent said their companies didn’t manage assets through their entire lifecycle (Figure 1).
  • 61 percent used programs that lacked information vital for lifecycle management.

Figure 1: The IT Asset Lifecycle Has Multiple Steps and Requires Tight Management 

ITAM Lifecycle

Source: Elitser Technologies

ITAM Problems, ITSM Solutions

While the pandemic has created numerous problems for ITAM systems and professionals, three categories of problems stand out for their magnitude and degree of difficulty. The solutions for each, in turn, lie in the close integration of ITAM with IT service management platforms.

Problem 1: Working remotely. It’s worth repeating that working remotely poses not simply the most significant challenge for ITAM, but also one whose scale is unparalleled. ITAM systems that can handle the expansive demands of a remote workforce are positioning themselves for success in the post-pandemic marketplace.

The key to ITAM’s effectiveness in a large remote setting is its value as a data discovery tool, notes Kelsey. “A good ITAM system can identify, collect, and normalize disparate data about a company’s asset stock and then feed them into an SM platform for analysis,” he says. “ITAM thus serves as a support functionality for the broader SM capability, which can crunch the data to help companies make a wide range of decisions about what to do with their assets.”

The future of remote working, by the way, appears bright. According to a recent Lawless Research study of work process integration practices commissioned by Cherwell, the vast majority of survey respondents—80 percent—rated their remote working experience as either good or excellent. On an anecdotal level, companies seem to be announcing every day that their decision to move many, if not most, employees to remote locations has become permanent.

Problem 2: Security. The need for—and urgency of—asset security grows exponentially as employees move to remote locations. Security policies that are sufficient for offices and other company-controlled facilities quickly become inadequate when most work is done offsite.

Cherwell’s Laurence Tindall, an ITAM product manager, elaborates. “Maintaining security was fairly straightforward when everyone worked in an office,” he notes, “but it has become much more complex as working remotely has exploded. Suddenly there are many more points of vulnerability not only from home locations, but also from the mixing of company and home networks, the presence of unintended users such as family members, and the greater proximity of equipment to physical damage from things like water, food, and pets.”

The starting point for strong security, Tindall insists, is an ITAM system that gathers the right data for a company’s service management platform to process. Combined with upgraded policies and better tools such as anti-virus software and virtual private networks, a well-equipped SM platform can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping assets safe.

Problem 3: Deployment and recovery. Deployment of IT assets is fairly straightforward onsite: Everyone is issued a laptop or desktop, a mouse, and maybe a keyboard, extra screen, or printer. Often these are pre-installed in a cubicle or office, which saves time for both employees and the IT personnel who support them.

But the logistics of deployment dramatically change when employees work remotely. All equipment must be shipped to the employee’s location, and it’s unlikely that IT personnel will come there to install the assets and set them up. In other words, the employee must do the required labor and rely on the help desk for all other assistance.

The fact that the pandemic is generating huge layoffs means that companies also must recover assets from remote locations on an unprecedented scale. This creates an even greater need for accurate asset tracking when, as mentioned earlier, almost half of companies are still tracking manually.

“ITAM systems and their SM platforms must be up to the task of managing the asset lifecycle as never before,” says Kelsey. “Data on inventory, usage, and location must be continuously refreshed, uploaded to the platform, and analyzed and categorized in a variety of ways to optimize deployment and recovery.”

Keys to Competitiveness

Kelsey and Tindall have identified several characteristics that they believe will differentiate the top ITAM providers from everyone else.

The first is the ability to recognize types, brands, and versions of software, and then to normalize the resulting data. Doing so not only ensures that SM platforms receive accurate data on software inventory, but also enables companies to determine whether their software is complying with licensing agreements.

Regarding these agreements, only a few ITAM providers have built comprehensive license analytics into their products. This gives customers the ability to process vast amounts of data that their service management platforms can then use both to pinpoint license positioning and create opportunities for efficiencies.

Verifying asset usage to reduce costs and increase ROI is also critical. Any ITAM system will collect inventory data, but only the most advanced can tell if assets are actually being used. The service management platform can then identify assets for disposal and compare usage to licenses; the result is lower expenses and higher ROI.

Easy deployment and use is important to customers because it saves significant amounts of time. It’s common for ITAM systems to take months to configure and deploy, but some are ready to roll within days or a few short weeks—which adds tremendous value for customers.

Seamless integration of ITAM systems with most service management platforms means that customers can plug ITAM into their platforms hassle free—even if the providers are different—and start to benefit from its full capabilities immediately.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

What can companies do to remain sharp in IT asset management once COVID-19 wanes and the future looks clearer?

To Kelsey, it’s primarily about having the right tools and process. “Companies can’t succeed with only one or the other,” he notes. “You have to have both to be successful in ITAM. On top of that, you must be willing to make the necessary investments as conditions change, and you have to avoid complacency and remain vigilant and focused on cost effectiveness. Learn the lessons of this big event and use them to be prepared when the next one comes.”

To find out more about how service management solutions can help streamline daily work operations and crisis management, check out our Handbook for Remote Workforce Enablement.

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