You’ll be forgiven if the topic of IT asset management (ITAM) doesn’t immediately excite you. ITAM lacks the complexity of network engineering, the sophistication of software development and even the sense of power you might get from account administration. But what IT Asset Management may lack in excitement it more than makes up for by delivering clearly demonstrable value to the business operations it enables and supports. In fact, a well structured ITAM can be the keystone to a well run IT operation.
IT asset management is often mistaken for mere inventory management. How many PCs are in stock for the new hires? How many Macs are we replacing this year? And, actually, those are very important questions which ITAM managers are often called upon to answer. But IT asset management is more than just inventory taking and stock keeping. The IT asset manager is also responsible for negotiating contracts, leading the procurement process for software, hardware and professional services. ITAM managers lead vendor evaluations and are often required to shepherd non-disclosure agreements and statements of work multiparty negotiations. In many organizations the IT Asset Management team is at the nexus of budget planning and monitoring the health of an IT department’s budget throughout the fiscal year. The IT asset manager oversees software as a service (SaaS) spend and traditional software and service contracts. In a healthy organization the IT asset manager sits at the nexus of the budget and has visibility into the requirements and standards of all various lines of business and business operations in the enterprise.
A highly functioning IT department seeks constant ways to drive value to the business. No IT business function is more important in this value proposition than the IT asset management function. And because IT asset management is intrinsically metric based, the IT asset manager can often very easily demonstrate value to executives in dollars and cents. Your business CEO may not easily grasp the value of SD WAN over point to point IP Sec VPN tunnels. But if you show them that you reduce the number of per seat licenses for video conferencing, or eliminate redundant spending in project management SaaS applications that same CEO will be singing your praises at the next all company meeting. If you’re looking to build credibility with your senior leadership team, show them the value of well managed IT spend and through well managed IT asset management.
IT asset management can be broken into three interrelated categories: application management, hardware management and vendor management. The key to application and hardware management is automation in tracking IT assets, while process management and critical business analysis is the key to good vendor management.
You won’t regret starting your ITAM practice with good SaaS management. Most companies are oversubscribed to familiar SaaS vendors who provide everything from document and spreadsheet application to project management to video conferencing and instant messaging communications. Today’s SaaS management tools have API’s to “identity systems” such as Okta and authentication standards such as OAuth. Through these API’s and the magic of their programming, SaaS management tools can easily report on license allocation versus actual use. If the IT asset manager sees a full license but no usage they can recover that license and either assign it to someone who will use it or eliminate the license. Either way, the ITAM manager is saving their business money. These SaaS management tools can also interface with corporate accounting and expense management systems to find shadow IT spend being expense at the departmental level. Implementing a good SaaS management tool will demonstrate immediate and easily understood savings for almost any business.
Many SaaS management tools also provide vendor management tools which allow you to manage contracts for renewal and additional features. SaaS management emerged as a response to the ease with which businesses were able to sign up for software. When a project manager found a new SaaS project management application they could easily start using a free version. When they shared the software with other members of the company, who also could sign up easily, the concept of “shadow IT” was born. Shadow IT is a risk for business because it usually doesn’t comply with data protection standards and it creates unmanaged expenses that really add up. If your ITAM department is looking for a place to start, begin with a good SaaS management tool.
With your applications properly accounted for you can use the budget you’ve saved to invest in an IT asset management system to track your hardware, endpoints and various configuration instances. Accurate hardware management and endpoint management requires automation. Unless you oversee a very small IT operation, you’ll never get up-to-date and accurate information on hardware without integrating your ITAM systems with a mobile device management or endpoint management application. Both Microsoft and Apple have endpoint management systems that are easily integrated with more major SaaS ITAM systems. Integrating Jamf with Oomnitza, for instance, will allow IT asset managers to have up to date information about hardware assigned to users as well as valuable insight into the applications being used on computers and mobile devices. Having an accurate IT inventory of endpoints is critical to managing hardware lifecycles and patching and configuration instances. Accurate endpoint and hardware inventory is also critical for managing data protection and other security concerns; you can’t secure something if you don’t know you have it or you don’t know where it is located and who is using a particular endpoint. To build the case for an ITAM system for your business, IT managers should emphasize the importance of IT asset management to enable security and manage enterprise risk.
The final piece of the ITAM puzzle is vendor and professional services management. Here ITAM managers and teams should focus on the vendor intake process and on operation expense budget for recurring business services. For vendor intake ITAM teams should partner with their businesses legal department and their information security teams. The legal team will be concerned with non-disclosure agreements, terms of services, master services agreements and matters of liability and risk. Without the approval of the legal no product or service is going to be purchased so it’s imperative to have them involved from the beginning. Ditto for information security requirements. Information security should provide ITAM managers with clear requirements for security that all vendors must certify they are able to address before any serious consideration is given to a business partnership. IT asset managers should build strong relationships with their legal departments and their infosec teams which they can leverage throughout the vendor vetting and onboarding processes.
For recurring services, such as network circuits and vendor support contracts, IT asset managers should continue to look for value delivered to the business. If a network circuit isn’t fully utilized the ITAM team can work with vendors to provide less costly circuit design or SLAs. Maybe your network switches need 24 hour advanced replacement, but maybe its just as effective to stock your own replacement or have a longer lead time for replacement. The IT asset management team should partner with other members of the IT to seek the best value for the business across all facets of IT operations.
By demonstrating value to the business, especially through clear metrics of cost savings the IT Asset Manager assumes an extremely important and extremely visible role on the IT operations team. The IT asset manager knows where all of the endpoints are through a business, which helps to manage cost and reduce any risk of data loss. The IT asset manger understands all the applications and services used by the business and helps to manage the costs associated with using these critical applications and services. And the IT asset manager is critical to the vendor and professional services engagements that every business encounters. At the end of the day, the IT asset management function is not only extremely important, it’s also kind of exciting!