In 2007, orders for computer hardware were vacuuming up time and piling up paperwork for both the University of North Carolina's Campus Services IT staff and its customers. Whenever a request for equipment came in from any of the 12 campus divisions served by the department, Campus Services gathered quotes from a variety of vendors and then either ordered the product directly or forwarded the best quote to the customer.
When the shipment arrived, a member of the IT staff would then image each machine individually and perform initial testing before installing the hardware.
"Between the work on our end and the accounting for the customer, there was a lot of unproductive time spent," says Craig Hyatt, IT director for Campus Services on UNC's Chapel Hill campus. "We had to find another way to manage how we acquired those assets."
To remedy the situation, Hyatt and his staff got out of the business of ordering the most common types of IT assets. Campus Services IT partnered with CDW•G to create a web-based self-service model through which UNC departments could select and purchase their own desktops, notebooks, monitors and printers.
On average, the new system saves about four hours of time for IT support professionals for each PC purchased and another two hours of time in the business office thanks to the reduction in paperwork processing, Hyatt says.
"The system is making life considerably easier for us and much easier for the customer – they don't have to wait on IT to order something," he says. "An administrative function like the basic ordering of commodity items isn't really an IT function, even though managing the acquired asset is."
The Building Blocks
Improving one process at a time is the idea at the heart of any successful asset management strategy, according to IDC analyst Fred Broussard. IT asset management involves oversight over the lifecycle of any piece of hardware or software, from acquisition to disposal. But implementation is usually optimized by taking incremental steps, such as UNC's streamlined system for ordering IT assets.
"Once an organization starts on the path of IT asset management, all sorts of routes to saving money and time open up to them," says Broussard.
Several factors were key to the creation of the new hardware purchasing. Ordering through CDW•G, which offers an array of equipment from various vendors, instead of going through several manufacturers eliminated time spent gathering quotes and decreased paperwork.
"There was a fair amount of overhead associated with creating purchase orders and sending them to the manufacturer, and the manufacturer had a longer lead time than CDW•G," says Hyatt.
At the same time, Campus Services IT also standardized on a limited number of Hewlett-Packard models, narrowing the options available to customers when they ordered desktop and notebook computers, as well as monitors and printers, Hyatt says. That eased the way for Campus Services to contract for CDW•G's imaging services.
Instead of imaging each computer ordered by a customer, the IT staff loaded and configured one computer for each device model and category of customer. CDW•G then performed the task for subsequent orders.
As part of the imaging service, CDW•G technicians also boot up and do initial testing on each PC before it's shipped, a step that catches out-of-the-box problems and keeps failure rates very low, says Hyatt.
For each of the UNC departments supported by Campus Services, CDW•G provides a custom web portal that displays the appropriately configured hardware models available to the specific user.
At the time the order is placed, CDW•G generates an e-mail notification, which goes through the university IT management ticketing system to Hyatt's group.
Once the device is shipped directly to the user, another e-mail from CDW•G alerts the IT staff that they can arrange to install the hardware when it arrives. About three months in advance of a manufacturer's general product release, CDW•G sends out demo models of new equipment to Campus Services IT so that updated hardware is available to UNC customers as soon as it is rolled out.
The percentage of survey respondents who say their asset lifecycle system should integrate to a software asset management solution
SOURCE: Enterprise Management Associates
The self-service ordering process involves a minimum of hassles and almost no loss of time or productivity, says Tommy Gunter, accounting manager for the UNC Auxiliary Services division, which receives its technology support from Campus Services IT.
"It's really been a seamless process for us," he says. "It's made things a lot easier for us – being able to order it online, seeing the product. There's no issue of having to receive an invoice, and the website is tied into the university accounting system, so the purchase is automatically charged to the right account."
The main adjustment for users was learning to navigate the web portal, says Kehinde Olajide, IT program manager for Energy Services Project Management at UNC.
"It took some time for everyone to feel comfortable with the site, but after the learning curve has been climbed the system has worked well," he says.
User feedback on the first phase of the revamped purchasing process was so positive that servers and storage devices were added to the system in 2009, says Hyatt. Campus Services IT also works with customers to help them fill the needs of specific projects through the self-service portal. The IT staff develops a technology configuration to support the project and the hardware components are then available through the portal.
In many cases, users can meet their needs with one of the standardized server options. If a certain project requires customization, Hyatt's group gets a quote from CDW•G for the modification and forwards it to the customer, who can place the order through a "quote-to-order" function on the web portal.
"When a department needs to do a project, they come to us and we give them a configuration," says Hyatt. "We tell them that they're going to need 'this server and this storage' to do the project successfully. Then they can order that equipment from the site."
Late last year, the IT staff consolidated down to a single standardized image. Campus Services is now exploring the possibility of shifting the creation and maintenance of the images to CDW•G. That move could save as much as 40 hours of staff time per image, even though Campus Services IT would still add custom applications to a few users' desktops, Hyatt says.
For more information on technology lifecycle management, go to edtechmag.com/higher/0310TLM.
In the past, Campus Services IT had tried to maintain a three- to four-year refresh cycle for hardware, but that interval has been stretched to five or six years for desktops in recent times. Lifecycle management means maximizing the life of any asset while trying to balance between funds available for replacement and how the aging technology is performing, says Hyatt.
Directing those customers to a self-service portal to purchase a replacment is an important step to efficiently managing IT assets, says IDC's Broussard. IT asset management is a gigantic task (and growing larger all the time with new technologies and the computerization of all types of equipment and systems) that requires increasing amounts of time from IT pros. Supporting this heavier management load requires finding processes that can be automated and relinquished to the customer.
"Automate and standardize basic functions, like purchasing, imaging and setting up e-mail, to offload some of the workload of the IT department," says Broussard. "Developing more funtionality for users is what IT has been doing for decades."
IT asset management is a job that keeps growing as the definition of IT assets broadens to include all sorts of enterprise assets, including heating and cooling systems, says Fred Broussard, analyst for tech research firm IDC. He suggests some essential steps an organization can take to track IT assets and optimize their performance.
- Make a plan that outlines a broad asset management strategy and details how specific processes fit into the strategy.
- Consider what information is needed to manage the organization's IT assets and what information is needed from the technology tools to help in the effort.
- Start small with a project that can be implemented relatively quickly to build buy-in among users.