Asset Tracking Gains Favor

Managing a network includes keeping track of all the equipment that constitutes the network and keeping the network up and running. Many companies have thousands of servers, desktops, notebooks, and network devices in their inventories, so keeping track of and managing all this equipment can be a difficult task.

A new class of inventory asset management and tracking tools may help ease the difficulties. GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com) estimates that within a year, 75 percent of large companies will initiate distributed asset management tracking programs. "A critical mass of our clients are involved in selecting asset management products," says Christopher Germann, research director for GartnerGroup's IT asset management practice.

Companies that track and manage their IT inventory -- a mundane and routine procedure -- often outsource the job. Lately, however, companies have been bringing this function back in-house. Some are recognizing that they can "gain the advantage of being able to see exactly what's going on with IT assets," says Maria Schafer, senior research analyst with SPEX (www.checkspex.com), which tracks and evaluates asset management products.

IT asset management is adding a new dimension to total cost of ownership calculations, GartnerGroup says. Deploying asset management software can save companies between $200 and $675 per seat. Much of the savings comes from finally having detailed information on what equipment is being used by employees, and then being able to make IT decisions based on that information. "A lot of people haven't had that information. There's a lot of inefficiency and waste that goes on because network or asset managers don't know definitively what types of computers they have," Germann says.

That lesson was learned by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC). The federal banking regulator implemented an IT asset management package on a Windows NT Server running SQL Server to keep tabs on almost 25,000 pieces of equipment. "In terms of planning and budgeting, it's wonderful to know what's out there," says Janet Roberson, assistant director for resource management at the FDIC's department of information resource management. "As we raise our standards, we know which machines fall below that standard and need to be replaced. Then we can do cost projections so we know what it's going to cost to move forward with a replacement effort."

FDIC's solution, running the Information Technology Asset Management System (ITAMS) from Innovative Logistics Techniques Inc. (Innolog, www.innolog.com), also tracks purchases of peripheral equipment and keeps a schedule of when items are due for repair or replacement. "In the past, our people would run out and buy one or two memory cards to upgrade," Roberson says. "We couldn't take advantage of volume discounts. By planning, we can keep the items in stock for when clients need them."

A similar approach is helping Packaged Based Solutions (PBS), a division of Cap Gemini that handles ERP installation, get a handle on more than 400 laptops used by its staff of 300 consultants, as well as $2 million in PCs and laptops for 135 headquarters employees.

Complicating the asset management task was that half the laptops were leased through two different leasing companies. Each component of one leasing company’s systems -- Ethernet card, batteries, hard drive, 3.5-inch drive, CD drive, and the case -- each had an individual asset number.

"Trying to keep track of all the bits and pieces that make up a laptop is extremely difficult," says Jim Backus, a consultant with PBS. "That doesn't include the various software programs."

PBS uses the Remedy Asset Management application from Remedy Corp. (www.remedy.com). The asset management application is integrated with Remedy’s Help Desk application to facilitate tracking asset information and optimizing support. "At any time, I can print out an asset sheet that shows specific user ID information -- who they are, where they are, their employee number and all assets assigned to them -- as well as a complete history of all work ever performed on each assigned asset," says Bruce Balchunas, manager of infrastructure with PBS.

Typically, information about IT devices such as desktops or notebooks are manually entered into the system upon procurement. Some vendors are adding bar code reader technology to automate this process. Some integrate with network management environments, such as Microsoft Corp.’s SMS or Computer Associates Int’l Inc.’s Unicenter TNG.

While products such as SMS play a role in asset management, they cannot process information outside the network, such as the initial purchase or eventual disposal of equipment, says Christopher Losa, director of integrated solutions for Innolog. "Typical asset management products function only when a computer is attached to a network. The entire process of budgeting, procurement, installation, warranty coverage, and maintenance of IT equipment is not visible to a traditional asset management or help desk product. IT equipment isn't always on the network."