Meeting the Challenges of IT Asset Management

Tracking IT assets has become more complex as the nature of these assets has rapidly changes. Given these changes, how should IT manage its assets?

Managing corporate assets has been an essential function of every enterprise, and now IT is being pressed to do the same with its technology assets. To learn how this change came to be, what assets should be measured, and what’s driving the need for IT inventories, we turned to Avanish Sahai, vice president of marketing for BDNA, who is responsible for all of BDNA's marketing functions.

Enterprise Strategies: What kind of assets need to be measured? How has this changed in the last 10 years? How do you expect it to change in the next 10?

Avanish Sahai: The diversity of technology asset classes and their total count has grown exponentially over the past few years. As technology-driven innovation continues to penetrate new industries and business functions this diversity, the count is going to grow even more dramatically. IT assets will need to be measured for a variety of business, risk, and operational management reasons in the future.

Looking backward 10 or 20 years, IT assets primarily resided in a data center -- large and easily countable mainframes or minicomputers, storage devices, and networking equipment sitting in highly protected environments.

The client/server evolution of the early 1990s, and then the dramatic impact of the Internet in the late 1990s onward, has changed this scenario. From a few big boxes, the world of IT assets has grown to include millions of desktops and laptops, hundreds of millions of PDAs and other handhelds, to a growing number of IP-based telephony and similar equipment. The data center has evolved from a few mainframes to thousands of mid-range servers and blades, some of which can often be in a wiring closet at a branch office rather than in a dust-free data center.

As we look 10 years hence, the landscape changes will be even more dramatic. They’ll be driven by three major trends: increased technology-driven innovation of business processes, greater adoption and sophistication of mobile devices, and dramatic penetration of virtualization.

Business assets that will be "on the network" and need to be continuously monitored; this will include a broad range of equipment from MRI machines and CAT scanners in hospitals to intelligent pumps at gas stations and checkout counters in supermarkets (and in fact, some of these are already here).

Mobile devices will continue to become the preferred computing platform for a range of professionals, who will expect secure access to many of their key applications, and thus IT will need to ensure that they're appropriately configured and tracked.

Finally, virtualization of computing and storage environments will become pervasive in data centers and on desktops, creating a much more dynamic infrastructure that will need to be constantly measured and managed.

The diversity and complexity of these devices, and their critical need within the business, place significant pressure on IT organizations to measure them and ensure that business and operational risks are mitigated.

Accountants always want to inventory assets for tax purposes. What's driving IT's need for inventories?

IT inventories are the fundamental building block for an extensive range of projects, policies, and processes in any organization. Critical projects, such as data center or server consolidation, outsourcing, and virtualization, all of which represent significant opportunities for cost savings, cannot be started or tracked without a comprehensive, timely, and accurate IT inventory.

Furthermore, organizations that are looking to develop the notion of "IT as a service" are also dependent upon IT inventory to understand which resources are aligned to which business processes, and, therefore, what services they support. IT inventory is at the head of Configuration Management Databases (CMDBs), which in turn drives IT service management processes.

A comprehensive and accurate technology inventory is fundamental for policies such as license compliance, risk management, and standardization of vendors and products. In all these cases, knowing the current inventory establishes the baseline for setting up and executing policies, and continuous inventory tracking ensures that the project is on track for success.

How do most IT shops manage an enterprise’s assets? Is this a manual process, is it automated, or perhaps some mix of these approaches?

As you’d expect, there is no single answer to this question. Gartner defines a "maturity model" that places different organizations on a continuum of sophistication and innovation in how they manage IT assets. This is the right way to assess how IT manages (or doesn't, as the case may be) its assets.

A surprisingly large number of organizations tend to use very rudimentary manual processes and spreadsheets to manage IT assets. A decently sized group has put in place basic asset management policies and technologies to automate tracking of IT assets, for both accounting purposes and for configuration and change management.

Finally, a very small number of enterprises has leapt into the category of strategically managing IT assets as a source of competitive differentiation, and use a high degree of automation and technology to ensure that value is continuously delivered while retaining the flexibility to respond to the business's needs. However, even these advanced organizations are generally finding that with the increased change and complexity defined above, their current arsenal of tools are not keeping up with the pace of innovation in their organization. What tools does IT lack to manage its assets?

The pace of innovation that was described in your first question is causing many organizations to revisit their toolkits for asset management.

These enterprises are recognizing that many of the tools that they have had in place (a) have not met the original goals that they were expected to, (b) have not kept up with technology changes, and (c) have frequently failed to provide a business decision-making framework in addition to a purely operational framework for IT asset management.

IT is looking for tools that can extend its reach in helping identify and automatically manage business assets. These include the ability to inventory and track changes to devices in hospitals, bank ATMs, gas stations, manufacturing shop floors, and much more. Although IT may not "own" these assets, it is, in fact, responsible for ensuring that they are correctly configured and running when required.

IT tools also need to understand that the changes in IT infrastructure, driven by mobility, virtualization, and further concentration of technology power (per Moore's Law) will require rapid retooling to keep up. These innovations are no longer controlled or mandated by IT alone. Users are bringing iPhones onto the network, shipping virtual machines around, and much more, outside the proactive control of IT.

Another trend that is driving the needs for new tools is Green IT. Not only do devices need to be identified and monitored, it’s also critical to understand their power metrics. This requires discovering them and also matching them to information about size specifications, heat dissipation, and power consumption.

Finally and fundamentally, managing IT assets needs to be looked at from not only the operational aspect (keeping devices up to date, ensuring that malware is not installed, etc.) but increasingly the business perspective.

Are IT resources optimally allocated to the most critical business functions? Where are the business risks of running unsupported software? How can I squeeze dollars from my next major licensing renegotiation by understanding what applications we are actually using? Where will consolidation initiatives have the most positive impact? Negative?

IT tools have to reinvent themselves to keep up with the technology-driven innovation that is pervasive in most enterprises; otherwise they may risk become a legacy of the "pre-IT" era.

What products or services does BDNA offer to address the issues you’ve raised?

BDNA offers BDNA Insight, an IT inventory solution that addresses the needs of the dynamic technology environments identified above. BDNA Insight combines key capabilities: an agentless discovery mechanism for comprehensive IT inventory; a technology catalog that enriches the discovered data with information about product support information, power consumption, manufacturers, and much more; and a highly flexible reporting and analytics framework to ensure that the information collected is usable across projects, policies, and processes.

BDNA Insight enables the automation of the collection process, and provides rich information to reduce IT costs, mitigate risks, and increase alignment between IT resources and the business.