October 2010 E-newsletter
Economics drive organizations to use technology in inventive ways to increase operating efficiencies and reduce expenses. Although there are many obvious benefits to deploying systems that automate processes and improve collaboration, the immediate result often is a complex and unwieldy IT environment. Even the smallest institutions can be overwhelmed by the diversity of their hardware and software resources.
To take control of these assets and manage them throughout their lifecycle, organizations of all types and sizes are ramping up their investment in IT asset management (ITAM) solutions.
College and universities traditionally have relied on ITAM primarily to track hardware inventory and monitor licensing agreements. But many systems support every phase of the lifecycle – from planning and procurement through deployment and maintenance (including license management, usage monitoring, software distribution and automated patch management) and finally, end-of-life retirement. Some even offer financial management capabilities that simplify procurement, regulatory compliance and vendor contract negotiation activities.
“Asset lifecycle management has really taken over,” confirms Lisa Erickson-Harris, research director at Enterprise Management Associates. Today, she says, organizations are looking for more from their ITAM products than just inventory management, instead seeking out solutions that can consolidate all monitoring and management functions throughout an IT asset's lifecycle.
Taking a holistic approach to managing IT resources is a practical way for colleges and universities to maximize the return on their IT investments. Before an institution can implement a lifecycle-centric ITAM strategy, however, its IT staff must inventory existing resources.
This is easier said than done, of course, on campuses where ongoing budget pressures have forced IT departments to manage ever more complex technology environments without a commensurate increase in staff.
In such environments, an automated ITAM solution plays an especially crucial role in helping IT managers keep pace. Unfortunately, many campuses are in the same boat as the University of Mary Washington.
Gaps in the Fredericksburg, Va.-based university's inventory records came to light this past summer when state budget cuts forced the institution to extend its hardware replacement cycle by another year, to five years. The university had been relying on a Microsoft Office Access-powered system in which IT staff manually entered and maintained inventory records for approximately 2,600 faculty, staff and lab workstations. A closer review revealed that much of the database's information was out of date.
Maintaining hardware inventory records using the homegrown system turned out to be “a continuously labor-intensive exercise and never completely accurate,” says Dana German, the university's vice president for information technologies and chief information officer.
The IT staff soon will replace the current system with Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, which in addition to supporting an automated approach to inventory management includes such functions as operating system deployment, patch management, software distribution and remote control.
“We need to leverage technology [solutions] that give us every opportunity to work smarter, so we don't have to work so hard reactively,” German explains, adding that the university hopes to complete the deployment by early next year.
Effective IT asset management practices can drive down total cost of ownership for IT resources by 15% or more. The biggest reductions come from procurement (160%), disposal (60%) and operations (44%).
Tasked with managing 7,000 institutionally owned workstations and supporting a highly transient user base, the IT team at the Medical College of Georgia is contending with familiar challenges.
“We've seen tremendous growth in the number of [supported] devices and, with video and distance learning, the sophistication of the technology,” says Beth Brigdon, who serves as associate senior vice president for finance and administration, CIO and associate provost of the Augusta-based college. “But budgetary issues mean our IT staff level remains the same.”
Given these realities, she adds, “The only way to get higher throughput to support users is through automation.”
To that end, the college relies on Novell ZENworks for inventory management and other associated functions, including remote support. Brigdon's team, which recently upgraded to ZENworks 10, is working to increase the number and speed of first-call resolutions through remote troubleshooting and repair.
Brigdon says the objective has less to do with cutting costs than increasing customer satisfaction. “Users are never going to be more patient than when they first call the help desk,” she says, adding that the best chance her team has for improved customer satisfaction is to repair the problem as soon as possible after that first call comes in.
A comprehensive and well-executed IT asset management program should support many objectives throughout a resource's lifecycle, including:
- acquiring the most beneficial IT assets at the lowest possible price;
- maximizing value throughout its term of use;
- optimizing performance;
- disposing of an asset when it's no longer cost-effective to maintain;
- complying with vendor requirements or other governance issues.