You can expect the growing complexity in IT environments, coupled with the urgency to optimize costs, to drive interest in IT asset management, or ITAM. This is a key finding in Deloitte’s IT Asset Management Global Survey 2021. So what’s ITAM, and how does it address issues regarding rising complexity and costs?
In this article, I’ll dissect the basic concepts of IT asset management, why it’s important to businesses, its benefits, some of its best practices, etc. After reading, you’ll better understand ITAM’s role in complex, cost-conscious, IT-driven organizations.
Let’s begin by defining ITAM.
What Is ITAM?
IT asset management, or ITAM, is the practice of discovering, tracking, and managing IT assets. Specifically, it involves keeping an inventory of all those assets, knowing what and where they are, and the value they contribute to your organization. Moreover, ITAM involves knowing those assets’ current state, utilization, end-of-life, licenses, costs, etc.
IT assets can be hardware, like physical servers, routers, switches, storage devices, etc. They can also be software, like operating systems, applications, virtual machines (VMs), and containers. Lastly, they can even be cloud-based subscriptions like SaaS, IaaS, or PaaS or facilities like a data center or disaster recovery site.
So why exactly do you need to track IT assets? Let’s talk about that in the next section.
Why Is IT Asset Management Important?
Your business is bound to accumulate a massive collection of IT assets in today’s technology and data-driven world. These assets can be widely dispersed—in your offices, your data center, the cloud, and even your remote workers’ hands. While many assets’ lifecycles last for years, others, like those of virtual machines and containers, only last for a few days or hours. All these attributes can present challenges when you need to perform certain tasks.
How would you know which assets are due for upgrades? Which ones need replacements? If you want to improve your security posture, do you know where to scan for vulnerabilities? What software installations need patching? When you need to conduct a software licensing audit, do you know where to look? If you wish to acquire a new piece of technology, is it already compatible, or will it integrate well with your existing IT infrastructure?
You can get the answers to all of these questions and concerns using a well-planned and executed ITAM program. IT asset management offers many benefits to your company overall. Let’s have a look at some of them in the next section.
6 Major Benefits of IT Asset Management
ITAM offers several economic, security, operational, and management benefits. In the following subsections, I’ll review some benefits of adopting ITAM in your business. I haven’t arranged these benefits in any particular order.
1. Have a Centralized Source of Updated IT Asset Information
As indicated earlier, IT assets are mostly dispersed across various locations and exist for varying periods. A robust ITAM program will allow you to aggregate all your IT asset information in a centralized location. In turn, this makes it easy for you to keep tabs on your IT assets and view any current and relevant information about them.
2. Gain Better Visibility of Your IT Assets
You can’t manage what you don’t know. An ITAM database will typically store your IT assets’ inventory, financial, and contractual data. By extracting information from that database, you’ll know, for example, your assets’ exact locations. In addition, you’ll know each asset’s model, purchase price, quantity, vendor name, depreciation, etc. You’ll also know their version and license details. This will help you gain complete visibility of your IT assets despite how complex your IT environment is.
3. Optimize Performance of Your IT Infrastructure
Aging IT assets sometimes cause an IT infrastructure’s poor performance. An ITAM system will help you follow each IT asset’s lifecycle, from the moment of purchase to its end-of-life (EOL). This will help you determine when to upgrade or replace an asset. You can maintain optimal performance while avoiding unnecessary costs by upgrading at the right time.
4. Maximize the Utilization of IT Investments and Expenditures
Ignorance of your existing IT assets can lead to duplicate purchases and underutilized resources. In turn, this can lead to wastage and unnecessary costs. Furthermore, a lack of visibility can result in software installations exceeding license limits, triggering hefty fines. The visibility gained from an ITAM system can help you avoid these undesirable scenarios and the unnecessary costs accompanying them.
5. Minimize Risk in Your IT Infrastructure
You can only implement patch management, vulnerability scans, and other security initiatives that reduce risk in your IT infrastructure if you track your IT assets. You can’t secure what you don’t know. Because IT asset tracking is integral to every ITAM program, having such a program in place will complement your security initiatives nicely.
6. Promote Compatibility and Integrability in Your IT Environment
To avoid deployment challenges and other related issues, you must look at the compatibility and integrability factors of your future potential IT solutions. Will they work with your existing assets? Keeping track of your IT assets will help you answer that question. By implementing ITAM, you can ensure overall compatibility and integrability in your IT environment.
And those are the 6 major benefits of implementing IT asset management in your business. What’s next, you might ask? Well, different types of IT assets are normally handled through different IT asset management categories. Let’s talk about those categories now.
5 Commonly Used IT Asset Management Categories
As you know by now, ITAM covers different types of IT assets, from hardware and software, to cloud services like SaaS and IaaS. Since each type of IT asset has its own characteristics, e.g., versioning might make sense to software but not hardware, you need to treat them differently.
For this reason, several specialized ITAM categories have emerged. Here are 5 of them. I’ve written a brief description and a list of benefits for each.
1. Software Asset Management (SAM)
Software asset management (SAM) helps you manage digital IT assets such as operating systems, applications, and other forms of software. Here are some of its benefits:
- Ensures your organization stays compliant with licensing agreements
- Helps you avoid performing software installations that exceed what you’re licensed for and the hefty fines that come with this negligence/malpractice
- Helps you identify installed software that you rarely use
2. Hardware Asset Management (HAM)
Hardware asset management (HAM) seeks to monitor your physical IT assets. These include servers, routers, storage systems, load balancers, modems, scanners, and other physical IT assets. The following list looks at some of HAM’s benefits:
- Helps you avoid over-purchasing and under-utilizing IT hardware
- Ensures you carry out hardware disposition (e.g., reusing, repurposing, recycling, or disposing of hardware) in the most cost-effective way possible
- Keeps you updated on the locations of all your hardware assets, whether owned or leased
3. Mobile Asset Management (MAM)
Mobile asset management (MAM) looks at managing your company’s mobile devices, such as phones, tablets, and other related devices. Here’s a list of some of its benefits:
- Enables you to track and manage IT assets even outside your corporate firewall
- Enhances security in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments
- Minimizes risk if a mobile device gets lost or stolen
4. Cloud Asset Management (CAM)
Cloud asset management (CAM) ensures the tracking of cloud-based assets such as SaaS applications, virtual server instances, containers, cloud storage buckets, IAM policies, and other related assets. Here are some of the benefits of implementing CAM:
- Gives you greater control over your cloud spend
- Minimizes shadow IT, a form of malpractice where employees use cloud services without your IT department’s consent; shadow IT exposes your business to unnecessary risks
- Keeps pace with short asset lifecycles and frequent changes in your cloud environment, e.g., as you spin server instances up and down on demand
5. Digital Asset Management (DAM)
Digital asset management (DAM) helps you manage digital assets such as images, videos, documents, presentations, audio content, and other files of value to your organization. Here’s a list of several of its benefits:
- Minimizes duplicates, which in turn saves storage space
- Improves productivity since users can easily find the digital assets they need to accomplish their tasks
- Simplifies governance and compliance initiatives
Regardless of category, any ITAM program requires more than just proper planning and execution to succeed. In the next section, I’ll share some best practices to help you roll out and maintain a successful ITAM initiative.
4 IT Asset Management Best Practices to Guarantee Success
Your ITAM program is bound to encounter several obstacles along the way. To prevent it from falling by the wayside, you’ll want to institute some best practices to help you persevere. I’ve outlined some of those best practices below. I haven’t arranged these best practices in any particular order.
1. Make ITAM an Ongoing Practice
One of the major pitfalls of implementing ITAM is treating it as a one-off exercise. Let’s say, for example, in response to a looming software audit, you roll out a full-blown SAM program. This typically involves scouring every single endpoint device across all your offices. Then, after some time, you lose focus, and your SAM program dies with it. What happens if the next audit comes along?
It’ll be much easier if you apply consistency and treat ITAM as an ongoing practice, tracking every asset through its entire lifecycle. It’s even better if you strive to establish an ITAM culture. That way, you don’t have to start over whenever you need a comprehensive inventory of your IT assets.
2. Win Leadership Buy-In to Support Your ITAM Initiative
As with any major intraorganizational undertaking, getting leadership buy-in is important. You can’t expect to establish an ITAM culture if you don’t have support from the top. An ITAM undertaking will require substantial company resources and employee cooperation. You can’t get those unless you have someone from the top championing your cause.
Focus your initial efforts on convincing people from senior leadership about the importance of ITAM. Leadership buy-in will make it much easier to get budget allocations for your ITAM program and acquire employee cooperation.
3. Automate Wherever and Whenever You Can
Unless you’re managing a small organization, it’s nearly impossible to discover every single asset in a reasonable time using just manual methods. This is especially true if your business units are geographically dispersed. Imagine discovering and tracking every single physical and virtual server in a multinational company. That’s an IT nightmare in a nutshell.
To improve the speed and accuracy of your ITAM processes, you’ll want to employ automation wherever and whenever you can. This may entail purchasing a reliable ITAM software solution. Don’t worry; the return will be worth the expense.
4. Identify and Prioritize Your Most Important Assets
This is a point that I can’t emphasize enough. An ITAM program is a huge undertaking, especially if you include all major ITAM categories. The sheer number and diversity of IT assets you’re supposed to discover and track can be overwhelming. The key point to remember is that an ITAM undertaking is a marathon, not a sprint.
Therefore, it’s best to identify your most important IT assets. These are the assets that are critical to your business—the ones that provide the greatest value. For example, an employee’s laptop can’t be as critical as your file transfer server. Once you’ve identified your critical assets, give them top priority in your ITAM program. This approach will enable you to achieve quick wins.
Before I end this article, let me first share some tips for choosing an IT asset management software.
3 Tips for Choosing the Right IT Asset Management Software Solution
One of the key best practices I highlighted earlier is automating whenever possible. This implies employing an IT asset management software solution. Designed specifically for ITAM, an IT asset management software solution will have several built-in functionalities that will simplify your ITAM endeavors.
Of course, each ITAM software differs from the rest. Have no fear; I’m here to help you out! Here are 3 tips you can apply when choosing an ITAM software solution, again arranged in no particular order.
1. Look for Discovery and Inventory Features
These are probably the most basic features you should look for. If a so-called ITAM solution doesn’t have discovery and inventory features, it’s probably not an ITAM solution. An ITAM software must be able to scour your IT environment and automatically discover IT assets for you. The software should also be able to add those assets to your asset inventory. That way, you can easily view and inspect your assets whenever necessary.
2. Look for an ITAM Database
Another essential feature you’ll want to consider is an ITAM database. This will be your main source of truth for all inventory, financial, and contractual data regarding your IT assets. Your ITAM software must either have a built-in database or a way to easily integrate with an external one. A single source of truth for your IT assets will eliminate confusion, improve efficiency, and reduce risks in your ITAM initiatives.
3. Make Sure It Supports the Assets Found in Your IT Environment
Remember that you have plenty of different types of IT assets. You must ensure your prospective ITAM software supports the IT assets in your IT environment. If it doesn’t, see if it easily integrates with other solutions that do. The more types of IT assets your ITAM solution supports, the fewer manual entries you’ll have to carry out.
I think that’s everything for now. You’re now ready to begin implementing ITAM. Let’s wrap things up.
To conclude, this article looked at how IT asset management reduces complexity and costs by allowing you to discover and track your IT assets. In turn, this enables you to make informed decisions when managing, maintaining, securing, replacing, and disposing of those assets.
In addition, I outlined the different types of IT assets and the corresponding ITAM categories you can use to manage them. These categories included software, hardware, mobile, cloud, and digital asset management. I also discussed several ITAM best practices which included making ITAM an ongoing practice and securing leadership buy-in.
Lastly, I discussed tips on choosing the right ITAM software solution for your business. You should look for discovery and inventory features, ensure the ITAM tool has a database or can integrate with one, and make sure it supports your other assets. Remember to focus on your business’s needs and requirements when implementing ITAM.
Do you have more questions about ITAM? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below.
What IT assets do you need to track and manage in a data center?
It depends on the type of data center. For example, you’ll have to manage your physical servers, network devices, operating systems, applications, and data in a colocation data center. On the other hand, in an enterprise data center, your management responsibilities will be far more extensive. You’ll also have to manage and monitor the entire facility itself.
Why do you need to track and manage virtual machines?
If you don’t track and manage your virtual machines, you’ll create more VM instances than you require. You can call this “VM sprawl” an undesirable situation that can lead to maxed-out storage resources, wastage, and unnecessary costs.
What is the biggest ITAM challenge when dealing with VMs and containers?
The biggest challenge when dealing with virtual machines and containers is their short lifespans. Compared to physical servers, which can last for years, some VMs and containers may only last for a few days or hours. They could be long gone even before you know they ever existed. However, VMs and containers are still exposed to risks during their brief lifespans. Therefore, you still need to track and include them in your ITAM initiatives.
How can you perform secure remote access to multiple IT assets?
You have several methods of performing secure remote access to IT assets. However, using an IPsec VPN is one way that allows secure remote access to multiple assets like multiple hosts and applications simultaneously.
How do you secure IT assets in a data center?
Data center assets consist of various components that include hardware and software. To secure these assets, you need to apply a multi-layered approach. Our introductory guide on data center security offers a comprehensive discussion on the matter.
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