Tracking inventory not so easy, experts say

Taking stock of exactly what software and hardware an IT department currently owns sounds simple enough, but those who have tried it agree that the task is difficult, and not without its share of risks.

That was the consensus among at least two speakers at this month’s IT Asset Management Conference and Solutions Showcase in Toronto. The show gathered experts to discuss the concept of IT asset management – a process, according to supporters (which include research firms Gartner and Meta), whereby IT managers can reduce their overall operations cost by first understanding what assets they have, then seeking to reduce duplication and increase efficiency wherever possible.

Joan Sinclair, IT manager in the software asset management group at Toronto-Dominion Bank in Toronto, said the financial institution has shaved nearly $80 million in costs since she was assigned to head up an asset management program in 1992, mostly around back-office technology.

“We saved…in terms of just the small things we put in place,” Sinclair said, including IT vendor negotiations, reviewing previous invoices and trying to secure better overall terms from fewer, but more strategic, suppliers.

With her group now at five full-time staff, Sinclair said TD has bought into her plan to expand the program, including the purchase of asset management software.

She warned attendees of the “significant effort” involved in getting such a program up and running. “Business process is 80 per cent of this job,” Sinclair said. “The technology is not the difficult part.”

After two previous efforts to roll out an asset management program failed to take root at Sprint Canada, Russell Thomas, director of vendor management, said he was determined to make the third effort – launched in June – succeed. “Companies can go out of business implementing asset management if they don’t do it right,” Thomas said.

Sprint will first take stock of its estimated 2,300 PC hardware units and the related software, then move into its Unix servers, and finally its network equipment.

Although time-consuming, he said he’s confident the effort will ultimately pay off. “Scan for equipment. It’s amazing what’s out there,” Thomas said. “What we see as the major impact here is the reality that stranded assets do exist…If we don’t know about it, then we’re spending money on new equipment.”

In fact, few would dispute the value of undertaking such a project, noted Allan Andersen, director of Unicenter product management with Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc. The company sells Argis asset management software it acquired from software maker Intraware in 2002.

“There’s a lot of money to be saved here – a lot,” Andersen said.

Companies that plan to engage in any form of on-demand computing over the next several years need to lay the groundwork first, he added, and that requires first getting an accurate picture of the hardware and software licensing and maintenance contracts being used throughout an organization.