A Y2K Lesson Learned: Cover Your Assets

The silver lining to the Y2K storm cloud may be the emergence of the discipline of IT asset management. "For the first time in a long time, most large companies now have a complete inventory of their systems and software," says Andrew P. Kerr, president of Primeon Inc. (Burlington, Mass.). "Making the most of that new in-depth understanding of IT inventories is the key to making the huge investments in Y2K pay big dividends over the long term."

Many companies have thousands of applications, servers, desktop PCs, notebooks and network devices in their enterprise that they don't even know about. Keeping track of and managing all this equipment has always been a cumbersome--if not impossible--task for IT managers. GartnerGroup (Stamford, Conn.) estimates that almost 75 percent of large companies will soon initiate distributed asset management tracking programs, a new class of inventory asset management that keep tabs on the procurement, usage and eventual disposal of IT equipment.

While many analysts predict that Y2K failures may string out for as long as three years, companies should feel comfortable finally moving ahead on strategic IT projects--such as network development, performance upgrades, e-commerce and ERP--by the end of the second quarter of 2000, Kerr says. A Y2K-instigated repository of IT asset information can serve as a valuable tool to move these projects forward.

Opportunities to act on these needs have never existed before, mainly due to a historical "lack of a knowledge base on current systems," Kerr relates. "The new Y2K inventories that most companies completed as part of their compliance process can now become an important step toward best-practice IT management." He warns, however, that these are "all one-shot inventories, highly valuable snapshots of the state of IT at a point in time."

Currently, the best source for effective IT asset management tools are help desk and best-of-breed solutions. These products were traditionally developed to identify and log existing IT inventory, as well as track and account for IT expenditures, especially depreciation and license compliance, says Kerr.

Typically, information about IT devices such as desktop or laptop computers are manually entered into the system upon procurement, and then tracked. Some vendors have added bar code reading functionality to automate this process further. Auto-discovery routines perfected for Y2K weeding can now scour the network and identify all hardware and software, including information on how old an asset is, what applications run on it and the license status of those applications, Kerr explains. Some of these asset management tools can integrate with network management environments, such as Microsoft's SMS or Computer Associates' Unicenter TNG, but the larger vendors have not yet focused on the area of IT asset management. Tivoli offers Tivoli Asset Manager as part of its toolset.

Such tools provide an immediate cost saving associated with finding unused software licenses and hardware that can be re-purposed, Kerr continues. Procurement and inventory data can be reconciled and exceptions highlighted for further investigation. Asset management systems also provide the ongoing benefit of keeping procurement and inventory data consistently up-to-date and reconciled. This benefits the accounting side by rapidly identifying unfilled purchase orders and other inconsistencies and can even enable the automation of many purchasing processes.

The IT group also benefits from having this up-to-date information, improving their help-desk capabilities and giving early warning of potential problems.