Embarking on a voyage of asset discovery

Using software tools to keep track of your technology assets will help with regulatory and licensing compliance and can net some businesses big savings


Using software tools to keep track of your technology assets will help with regulatory and licensing compliance and can net some businesses big savings

Almost 66% of IT managers admit to not having a completely accurate record of their IT assets, according to a survey commissioned by configuration and security management company LANDesk. And only 28% use a single management tool to discover, track, secure and manage all the IT hardware and software assets in their organisation.

Instead, most respondents profile their IT assets using manual methods, usually by physically checking the location of equipment in the office or logging all new hardware and software as it arrives, and then manually updating spreadsheets.

IT asset management is becoming increasingly important due to the need for businesses to meet regulatory compliance. Laws and industry regulations such as ­Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel 2 require organisations to provide better visibility of operations, including IT. In many cases, this means compiling a complete ­inventory of IT assets.

In addition, non-compliance with software licensing carries heavy penalties. Organisations such as the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Federation Against Software Theft (Fast) actively investigate companies that are suspected of using unlicensed software.

According to the BSA’s figures, this could be as many as 27% of UK businesses – and in October 2004, the BSA announced that it had collected £1.2m in penalties from 25 companies in its annual software piracy sweep.

Not only that, but non-compliance with software licensing rules is a punishable offence under UK law – albeit one that is rarely, if ever, applied. Under legislation that came into effect in November 2002, UK company directors face up to 10 years in prison if they fail to stamp out the use of unlicensed software within their businesses.

“All too often IT policy enforcement and management is left solely to the IT department, in the belief that when IT staff say that correct licences are in place, they are. But the directors themselves will be held culpable. Company directors need to have a firm grip on their technically able IT staff,” said John Lovelock, director general at Fast.

IT asset management software from companies such as Peregrine Systems, BMC, CA, Monactive and Altiris can help organisations track software usage.

These tools perform a number of tasks. They run “inventory discovery checks” to assess what software and hardware is in use in an organisation, controlling its use and storing information about these assets in a central repository. Key inventory information includes specific location data for each device, and this often includes the country, city, office name, floor and location.

Also important is detailed device information, including the model number and its associated serial number (always key for external support suppliers) and the software version running.

The IT asset management software also provides tools to control the IT procurement cycle, processing user requests for hardware and software, confirming their entitlement and then tracking the testing, evaluation and release of these products to users.

Finally, these products manage IT contracts, alerting managers when discounts for bulk purchases should be requested from suppliers and alerting them when licences are due for renewal.

Frances O’Brien, an analyst at research firm IDC, suggests that companies should get started on IT asset management initiatives immediately. “If your business has not yet made a commitment to asset management, there is significant opportunity to focus resources on this area and achieve a disproportionate benefit,” she said.

Since any money saved through an IT asset management programme is saved for the duration of the contractual commitment, companies that do not begin to manage these costs now will not be competitive in the future, because they will be building their budgets from a much higher cost base, O’Brien said.

Effective IT asset management can reduce the cost of maintaining IT assets. Ian MacDonald, senior product marketing manager at IT asset management specialist Peregrine, which was bought by Hewlett-Packard in September 2005, said, “When IT does not know what is installed on an end-user’s PC, it cannot easily diagnose problems or pinpoint PCs that need updates when application security vulnerabilities arise.

“As a result, the average time it takes to resolve an incident increases and additional support expertise is required to handle the additional applications.”

IT asset management can also assist companies in implementing “charge back” schemes, under which individual departments and business units pay IT directly for the IT resources they consume. “In order to implement charge back, you need to know what IT assets you have, who is using them, when and what for.

“Putting a relevant and efficient system in place for charge back requires not only a willingness from both enterprise IT and its supported customers to map the impact of service usage across service-related assets to cost, it also requires effective software investments to make that mapping relevant, accurate and adaptive to change,” said MacDonald.

“All this information can be captured and held in an IT asset management system and easily extracted in the form of management reports.”

But manually tracking IT assets is cumbersome. Tony Probert, director of sales and marketing at specialist software firm Monactive, said, “Gaining visibility into and control over IT assets is an extremely difficult task to accomplish using manual methods and spreadsheets.

“Efforts quickly become too fragmented and unco-ordinated – often because IT purchasing responsibility falls to numerous people within the organisation. Not only do IT assets become difficult to track, they become even harder to manage.”

The situation is exacerbated by rapid product lifecycles and the need to regularly patch and upgrade software. Using IT asset discovery tools, users can reduce the cost of maintenance and gain a much better view into what ­assets are duplicated and what ­areas of IT need to be rationalised.


Wigan finds out where to cut costs

Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council must be able to demonstrate that it spends taxpayers’ money wisely. In IT terms, that means keeping a close eye on costs and accounting for every piece of new equipment and software that is installed.

But when the council recently investigated its IT assets using an automated asset management system from Monactive, it got several surprises.

Within two days, it discovered about 100 “redundant” PCs on its premises that were in good working order and could be reallocated to users. It found “numerous” copies of unlicensed, unauthorised or out-of-date software sitting on desktops that needed to be removed or updated.

In one area of the council, it found that software that it had licensed for use on 68 desktops was being used on four times as many machines. In another, it found a 25% oversubscription to an anti-virus package.

That information has not only enabled the council to make immediate cost savings, it will be used to drive better purchasing decisions, said Paul Fairhurst, IT infrastructure manager  at Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.

“It is easy to cut IT costs when you know what you do not need. And understanding our true needs means we have a stronger negotiating position with our IT suppliers.”


Case study: Friends Provident uses asset management tool for upgrade to XP

Insurance firm Friends Provident is in the process of upgrading its corporate PCs and laptops from Windows NT to Windows XP.

To do this effectively, the company needed to know the exact number of clients that required upgrading, the applications running on them, who used them, and whether each client had enough memory and processing power to run the new operating system.

“The challenge of this project is replacing like for like,” said Nicky Mortlock, technical project manager at Friends Provident. “We need to be able to see exactly what applications are on each individual desktop and replace them, along with the new operating system, to give users the same experience as they had before.”

That is no easy feat when you have 3,500 desktops scattered over a wide geographic network. For that reason, Friends Provident is using CA’s Unicenter package, which provides tools for asset management, software delivery and remote control.

Using this package, it is no longer necessary for Friends Provident’s technical staff to visit each PC individually, ascertain what is on it, and perform the upgrade locally.

“We are using Unicenter Asset Manager to identify specific targets, such as PCs and laptops, to verify their specification and to audit locally-installed content, all from a central location,” Mortlock said.

This is already saving money on software licences, she said. “For example, where a user has installed Microsoft Project for a task they completed a year ago but no longer uses it, we can remove the software from that desktop and redeploy it to someone who does need it.”

Friends Provident is also using the system to get the most out of older assets. “A lot of PCs will need replacing either immediately or in the near future and we know exactly where they are and have timetabled their replacement.

“But at the same time, we have been able to take a lot of our lower specification PCs and give them to users who access applications sitting on a server through Citrix Terminal Server, because they do not need a new, high-specification PC to perform their roles effectively,” said Mortlock.

In future, Friends Provident  will use CA Unicenter to assist in keeping a handle on its IT inventory, leading to further cost savings and efficiencies, said Mortlock.

“It will enable us to maintain a consistent environment in which application deployment and software upgrades will be kept under firm control. Knowing what assets we have, where they are and who is using them allows us to more proactively demonstrate the value that IT delivers to the business as a whole.”

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