Heading into 2021, companies are adopting more technologies, platforms and other assets into their IT environments than ever before. Utilizing this expanding array of resources helps them move faster, become more agile and focus more directly on customer-centric initiatives. At the same time, more resources means more IT complexity, making it harder to keep track of both the hardware and software assets that live inside these environments.
To cut through this complexity, organizations are paying more attention to IT Asset Management (ITAM). ITAM strategies oversee, manage and optimize the licenses of all the assets under IT’s control – company-owned IT systems, hardware, cloud instances, networks, processes, software and data.
ITAM isn’t a brand new concept. It builds on concepts dating back to the 1960s and ’70s – everything from data center management to business service management to IT service management – and puts them under one umbrella. But, new or not, it’s a concept that will take on added importance as organizations struggle to gain visibility into their increasingly large IT installed bases.
Managing IT assets has always been a difficult task for organizations – small, medium and large. This complexity has been further increased by the way in which organizations now consume IT assets, and create siloed data sets with no single view that is both complete and accurate. They not only have to keep track of the hardware and software assets they have collected – they need to know how each one is contributing, hampering, or, in some cases, both, to a variety of other measures. Is this asset in compliance with evolving regulations? How much is it costing the business? Is the company investing enough in upkeep? Are we covered if we’re hit with a breach event or an audit? And how vulnerable or safe is the system – for a certain product, process or the company as a whole?
The ITAM process is often further complicated for several reasons. One is that different functions inside companies manage assets through different parts of the assets’ lifecycle. One group starts the process in the requisition phase – defining what sort of assets you need to have. Procurement and finance professionals pick up the process in the acquisition phase. A new group enters in the deployment stage, putting the IT equipment into practice. This is followed by maintenance, encompassing the routine physical updates, patching and any needed repairs.
The last stage – retirement of the hardware and software assets – is often overlooked and underappreciated. Newer, more powerful equipment can fall out of software license compliance due to the way vendors now measure consumption. Software license keys can easily be lost during the retirement process if not properly harvested for reuse. It’s important to be careful with the clean-up process, and not focus only on cost savings when retiring an asset. If this process is being followed, in a very linear manner, it can create benefits. The ultimate goal for ITAM is to provide the most value to the business when it comes to asset consumption.
The expanded role developers play in driving the overall software delivery experience only adds to firms’ IT asset management challenges. Many in the industry believe that within the next few years, the majority of global enterprises will be running more than two containerized applications in production. That means the developer can install apps and open source tooling on their containerized or cloud-native workloads.
Developers have different experience in compliance, regulation, software licensing, etc. A software asset management program will enable you to make better decisions regarding which software licenses you’re willing to spend money on and which assets you’re able to utilize open source technologies.
Of the asset management challenges organizations face, the most compelling is the need to get a single-pane-of-glass view for different software stacks within each enterprise. Whenever you load open source apps or software stacks on top of workloads, software becomes less available for discovery. From a licensing and compliance perspective, it’s important not to forget that every open source aspect or application can be developed on its own by the customer himself. The question is, when will you be open to vulnerabilities and when will you be compliant? With IT asset management you can create a mechanism to alert people when a specific piece of software falls out of compliance, whether that’s end of service life, a common vulnerability and exposure, or over-consuming license entitlements.
Here are six best practices to follow to improve the efficiency of your IT asset management component.
Start by determining what your IT asset management ecosystems look like.
The people trying to establish an asset management perspective should ask these critical questions: What assets have been deployed? What has been taken over from a merger or acquisition? Where do these assets sit? Which vendors do you pay the most? What are the cost trends you’re seeing year to year, in terms of hardware vs. software investment? What software licensing best practices have you implemented already or are considering implementing? Has the company been exposed to any major compliance audits (internal or external), been fined by local authorities, or in dispute regarding licensing or compliance? Managing your business more efficiently and knowing your environment can eliminate many risks inside and outside of your ecosystem.
Identify the user personas that play important roles across the company.
What people are using each IT asset? And for what purposes? If your employees are under-using certain tools or technologies, which you’re paying for, the whole company might be underdelivering on its internal investment. Your users show you where you should be putting your money and driving business value. User personas and usage patterns can aid in portfolio rationalization and determine the solutions you’ll want to retire versus those to invest in.
Establish a task force or expert office for IT asset management.
This function is often overlooked and minimized in importance. Many companies don’t feel the need to have experts inside the company or create a department. They often pay third parties to do it when they could take control of the practice themselves and use the third party to carry out deliverables. An internal task force – composed of professionals or stakeholders from each stage of the IT delivery lifecycle – can be an important investment for a company.
Implement a coherent selection process for choosing the right vendor for asset management.
Selecting an ITAM vendor can be looked at as a massive headache, especially for organizations that have always worked with third parties. The company may not have a huge environment, but it may be scaling up, so it may need to invest more. The most important move is to start your benchmarking exercise by writing down the requirements and gathering input from IT to finance to procurement to legal. Look at requirements you have in your company and manage the process through a task force.
Benchmark the size of your IT asset management investment.
How much IT management do you really need? This investment has to be really smartly benchmarked. You don’t go to a store and buy the most expensive solution and expect it to plug in and play. You need expertise and knowhow to extract the data points and analytics and trends from your estate to make smarter and cost-effective solutions going forward.
Don’t underestimate cybersecurity.
If an organization follows each of the steps above, the last critical piece of criteria is to ensure that specific assets are secure. This is the foundation for cybersecurity: Can you really be secure if you don’t know what hardware and software you have, where it is and how it’s configured? There will be a lot more cyberattacks. Looking at IT assets through a cyber lens should be a part of IT asset management.