For decades businesses have been tightly managing their assets with the understanding the more one knows the more one gains.
Tracking and managing IT equipment has proven to be a more difficult task due, in part, to individual business units’ history of autonomous IT purchasing. In the heady days of the 1990s this was less of a concern since IT was not as tightly bound to ROI as the rest of a company. The downturn in the economy changed that tune.
Asset management in IT is more complex than managing other business sectors since most technology has a relatively short lifespan. Hugo Garcia, senior systems engineer with Tivoli Software at IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont., defines IT asset management as managing the life cycle of technology from both a technology and financial perspective. This includes everything from device configuration and location to financial information such as lease history, product value depreciation and service history.
The key to good IT asset management is to have it incorporated into a larger business asset management program, Garcia said.
“IT assets are just one special type of asset,” said Bill Kirwin, vice-president and research director with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.
But according to Gartner there is a gap between what is known to be good corporate practice and what is actually done. Gartner Measurement found that about 90 per cent of the sites it audited used only “marginal practices for hardware asset management.”
Focusing on distributed computing (where PCs and other similar technologies are geographically spread out), Gartner also found that poorly managed IT can increase the total cost of ownership between seven and 10 per cent, translating to between US$560 and $800 per user.
As Canadian companies go, few have more IT to keep track of than Bell Canada. Amongst the responsibilities of Frank Anderson, vice-president of infrastructure and operations with Bell Canada in Toronto, are 35,000 laptops and desktops.
Keeping track of all of this technology is a core business policy, one which is helped by Bell’s IT operating very closely with all of the business units.
Bell has an ongoing “evergreen” project where most of the company’s PCs are cycled through on a three to four-year basis. Keeping exact tabs is paramount to the project’s success.
“As we roll out machines they are going into a line item database,” Anderson explained. Every aspect of each machine is stored in a central database, including financial information such as leasing contracts. Before a contract comes due, Bell can decide what to do with a given machine. This helps to avoid such things as lease related penalties.
Keeping close tabs also helps control costs in tight economic times.
“With the slow down in IT spending, this may be a time when organizations are sort of catching their breath and really examining what they have,” Kirwin said.
Since the downturn, Bell has moved some PC refreshing from three years to four. But it is not as simple as moving all machines to four-years cycles. Different departments have different requirements. Whereas accounting might be able to make due with a four-year-old machine, sales, with graphics-intensive presentations, can not.
Anderson said his team sits down with the various units to asses their technology requirements. Without exact IT asset management this would be next to impossible.
Kirwin said recently there has been a noticeable change in the way companies are approaching IT asset management.
“If we were to run these numbers (from the survey) next year I think we would see a dramatic increase in the number of companies that would have a true asset management process,” he said.
Today much of the asset management data is divided into silos with physical, inventory and financial information stored separately.
“Three levels of data…related to one another in support of the business. That is a vision of the future,” Garcia said.