Mar 23 2010

Asset Management Graduates to the Next Level

K–12 schools focus on consolidating asset management.

As schools invest in a progressively more diverse set of technology resources, their IT departments need to take asset management to a new level.

Today's IT departments are responsible for managing a wide-ranging list of assets from the initial needs assessment and procurement stages through maintenance and end of life. These responsibilities extend beyond traditional IT hardware and software to include less conventional gear, such as audiovisual equipment and whiteboards that are proving to be valuable classroom tools and that represent a sizable investment for most schools.

The value of these resources puts the pressure on IT to come up with an effective asset management strategy, which could save a school as much as 30 percent of its total IT budget, according to Gartner. 

This potential for reducing expenses resonates particularly well with the resource-strapped Greater Latrobe School District of Pennsylvania, which is racing to comply with a one-to-one computing mandate that dictates computer access for every high school student. 

Even with just a handful of IT staff members dedicated to supporting the 3,400-student school system, the district has already achieved considerable success through its Novell ZENworks deployment, which helped it consolidate desktop management and reduce costs by 75 percent. However, aside from managing desktops and servers, the district still lacks an asset management system for tracking nontraditional assets such as video capture tablets.  

Matt Snyder, a technology specialist for Greater Latrobe, muses about how nice it would be to have a consolidated system for managing teacher sign-outs for projectors alongside inventory tracking for the district's more conventional technology resources. 

“A consolidated system would reduce the paper trail and a lot of the duplication that goes along with having separate databases,” Snyder says. 

Great Potential

Industry observers agree that the potential benefits of a centralized system for managing K–12 technology assets are vast.

“School districts have a massive number of assets,” observes Richard Ptak, managing partner with Ptak, Noel and Associates. “Consolidating the management of these assets would reduce training costs, help streamline out-of-date processes, standardize across the organization and generally help organizations better allocate their budgets.”

Ptak adds that having a single system to manage all assets makes it much easier for organizations to create actionable reports that can be used to collect, correlate and share information to better coordinate resources.

Some schools, particularly smaller organizations, are pooling asset data to consolidate management functions. St. Stephen's & St. Agnes, a private school in Alexandria, Va., with 1,200 students on three campuses, uses a single asset management system to track conventional notebooks and desktops as well as whiteboards and other advanced technology.

IT hardware and software maintenance expenses, including costs for support services, account for between 40 percent and 60 percent of the typical IT operations budget.

Source: Gartner

“This helps us keep an eye on the bigger picture,” says Colleen McNeil, information technology director for St. Stephen's & St Agnes, who adds that the centralized view makes it easier to handle important functions, such as coordinating end-of-life equipment retirement in accordance with the school's policy.

Yet despite all the benefits associated with consolidated asset management, most schools are still a long way from centralizing the administration of their disparate resources. While this lack of progress can be attributed in part to planning and administrative issues, other obstacles, both political and cultural, also stand in the way. 

Some argue that the real near-term opportunity lies less with consolidated asset tracking and more with the convergence of multiple disciplines to better align IT with overall educational objectives.

“The merger of IT asset management, service management and financial management domains will give IT the real picture of the finances and service delivery requirements,” says Lisa Erickson-Harris, research director for IT finance at consultants Enterprise Management Associates.

This perspective will help schools better prioritize projects and spending to achieve successful outcomes.  However, without data that includes nonconventional IT assets, schools will have a very limited perspective. 

5-Point Asset Management Strategy

  • Plan ahead. Tie IT asset management strategy to overarching IT objectives and educational priorities.
  • Get buy-in from the top. The backing of high-ranking management and those involved directly in procurement will help ensure continued investment and policy enforcement.
  • Address ongoing lifecycle management. Asset management strategy 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 lines of communication open. Continuously assess where objectives may be changing across departments in order to adjust strategy.
  • Evaluate vulnerabilities. Make adjustments to mitigate risks.