Forget the old campus model where teaching was confined by the boundaries of the physical classroom. The combination of web, mobile and communications technology is transforming higher education almost overnight, creating an expansive learning environment where geography is no longer a limiting factor as information flows freely among faculty and students, wherever their location.
The flip side of this brave new virtual world is college and university IT organizations are faced with some very real hurdles when it comes to managing conventional IT hardware and software assets, and the integrity of the data created within the institution.
Take George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. With seven PBX switches, more than 35,000 network ports and 32,500 students, George Mason University is no stranger to the difficulties created by the asset management sprawl that goes along with rapid growth.
Rather than tracking IT hardware assets such as desktops, servers, and switches separately from other equipment, George Mason University administers its entire physical inventory including items like vehicles in its Web TraQ Equipment System. TraQ, which was written by QueTel, uses an SQL database.
Walter Sevon, executive director of the technology systems division information technology unit at George Mason University, says the inventory information includes the manufacturer, category of equipment, serial numbers, any relevant barcodes, purchase order requests, and how long the gear is depreciated.
“We track any information that is useful in supporting a number of functions, including planning, procurement, maintenance, and end-of-life retirement,” he adds.
Accuracy is essential, Sevon says, noting that to ensure the asset information is up-to-date, the university conducts scheduled inventory checks. This includes strict enforcement that requires the responsible department replace any missing equipment.
IT hardware and software maintenance expenses, including support services costs, account for between 40 percent and 60 percent of the total IT operations budget.
George Mason University still manages most software assets separately, using a spreadsheet for license management simply because software can't be automatically scanned during inventory in the same way as hardware can. However, the university does include capitalized software in the TraQ for fiscal management purposes. The university defines capitalized software as any computer software developed or obtained for internal use where the cost of the license is $10,000 or more and the software license has a useful life of greater than one year.
No Single Path
George Mason is a good example of the general awakening in the marketplace to the concept of converged asset management where hardware, software, and non-IT resources such as vehicle fleets are managed from one consolidated system for the purposes of effective fiscal management.
However, both the nature of the academic environment itself and the rapidly evolving nature of technology and how it is used means there is no one single path to achieving this kind of refined consolidated management.
“A university is basically a small city,” says Richard Ptak, managing partner at Ptak, Noel & Associates, adding that the environment comes with all the expenses that go along with managing what can be a vast physical and logical infrastructure.
The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., is typical of many higher education institutions that are trying to find an efficient way to manage what is an increasingly open, web-based environment populated with a myriad of devices and software applications.
“Virtual computing and virtual computing labs are motivating a complete change of who owns what,” says Dr. Khalil Yazdi, CIO and vice president for information technology and institutional research at the University of Mary Washington.
Dr. Yazdi says that as even more services become available through the cloud, the challenge for tracking assets will become even more difficult.
This starts, he says, with having an accurate accounting of legacy assets, traditional hardware and software resources that fall entirely under the IT department's purview.
“IT needs to understand if and how these assets relate to more virtualized resources that may actually be owned and managed by a third party,” he says.
Mapping a Successful Asset Management Strategy
- Plan ahead. Tie IT Asset Management (ITAM) strategy to the overarching IT objectives and educational priorities.
- Get buy-in from the top. The backing of high-ranking personnel and those involved directly in procurement will help ensure continued investment and policy enforcement.
- Address ongoing lifecycle management. ITAM should include all phases of the IT asset's status, from the assessment and procurement stages to regular inventory management and end of life retirement.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Continually assess where objectives may be changing across departments in order to adjust strategy.
- Evaluate vulnerabilities. Make adjustments to mitigate risks.