Adding Business Value – Catching Up After a Year or More in Emergency Mode

By Jenny Schuchert

The organization has changed rapidly in response to the new economy and the related shifting of priorities and plans. Smaller IT budgets have led to delayed IT projects, downsizing and a focus on squeezing value from existing investments. This reactive focus turns IT Asset Managers into hardware and software inventory counters, terminated personnel equipment reapers and process fixers. These tasks are part of the ITAM role and are reasonable reactions to the needs of the organization during such emergency-style changes. However, limiting IT Asset Management to these tasks leads the IT Asset Manager backwards to the era of managed chaos, with little overt value to the business. This article will present ideas on how the IT Asset Manager can be proactive, preventing the long term loss of IT asset performance and value.

While the ability to manage many tasks at once, paired with detail orientation, might have gotten you the job, the ITAM role for 2011 is going to be about leadership, resourcefulness and flexibility. In the chart below, specific objectives for the IT Asset Manager are suggested that take advantage of these characteristics:

Leadership Communicating status, statistics, and opportunities. Driving new ideas, fresh perspectives. Aligning priorities with the organization, not just with IT.
Resourcefulness Identifying and eliminating roadblocks proactively. Suggesting alternatives and multiple uses for data and tasks. Negotiating cooperation internally and externally.
Flexibility Keeping up-to-date on technology and trends, ready to drop into a project and help steer towards the organization’s goals. Receptive to redefining the role.

Leadership

Leaders communicate frequently and in an energetic and positive manner. To be perceived as a leader, present issues as questions and try to keep the conversation away from the finding fault and who to blame angle that has no value. Leaders can be tactical and focus on short term goals as appropriate. A good leader also is resilient enough to find alternatives. If your view of what should be done is not acted upon, find ways to move forward with the chosen path. Consider an approach like this one:

Server virtualization can make the software in use much more fluid. That changes how long a discovery run is an acceptable representation of the software in the environment. What processes are we going to use to spin up and retire virtual servers? I’d like to participate in some testing so that I understand how discovery captures the virtual and physical servers. Do you have suggestions on software applications that are currently taking advantage of the flexibility that we have gained? 

The leader in the scenario is gathering information about the how the virtual servers are being implemented and how processes may or may not help with understanding the environment. Although the focus for IT Asset Management is on proper licensing, complaining or asking questions about licensing to the technical team are unlikely to be productive. In the case above, the IT Asset Manager would next assess the information available against the licensing options and lay out choices for upper management. The goal of IT Asset Management is to license correctly, but not necessarily in the most popular and perhaps most expensive way. Choices and their associated risks should be communicated to the involved individuals. Communicating and educating has a cumulative impact, building the understanding that leads to cooperation.

Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness will force the IT Asset Manager out of the lifecycle management safety zone. Since ITAM touches each person and department, the IT Asset Manager is in the best position to uncover issues or to find mutual benefit. Consider the scenario of collapsing departmental physical servers through virtual servers on shared physical servers.

Let’s discuss the new server configurations and how they impact the discovery data because there are more users of that data than the obvious ones of the Service Desk and ITAM. The discovery data is used by the chargeback and capital assets teams as well as the disaster recovery team. For chargeback and capital assets, the most important issue will most likely be the server naming convention which they currently use to align their records with actual departments. What suggestions do you or the vendor have for implementing the virtual servers so that the discovery data still fulfills their needs?

For the disaster recovery team, they need to identify products and data to the users/owners and relate that usage to the disaster recovery plan…

Flexibility

Flexibility is the best tool that the IT Asset Manager has to remaining vital and effective within the organization. Being flexible though doesn’t mean that the IT Asset Manager becomes passive during change. It means being open to redefining even the basics, such as the breadth of assets included in the program or the role of the IT Asset Manager. Here is a possible response to organizational change:

I was talking to my contacts in the manufacturing division and found out that they are considering cloud computing options for a number of their COTS applications. Management was not planning on including IT in the vendor discussions or contract negotiations. I have set up a meeting to explain the value proposition for the services of IT and ITAM that remain relevant to the goals of manufacturing. With the new hierarchy and the change in budget processes, we need to investigate alternative service scenarios, like creating an ITAM position within manufacturing or as a shared resource between divisions…

Thinking Strategically

During stressful and insecure times, employees are tempted to do only what they are instructed to do in order to exude personal worth. Following instructions in the ITAM world typically slips the program into tactical, operational management of the lifecycle. The problem with this approach for the IT Asset Manager is that the ITAM program must be seen as strategic as well as tactical in order to survive. For example, consider the strategic actions of business innovation (new product lines, mergers) and IT technology changes (to accomplish organizational goals). In both cases, ITAM should be adding business discipline to these strategic implementations such as compliance, contract management and documentation management. ITAM helps reduce the risks of unexpected costs, unforeseen and cascading IT consequences, and poorly maximized opportunities.

The following examples suggest ways to act that build the link to strategic action:

  • Has the organization gone through layoffs? Measure the number of computers returned on time if leased, the number that were redeployed and the related cancelation of new expenditure, analyze the return versus lost rate. Present results and make suggestions to close any process holes uncovered.
  • Are major software contracts coming up for renewal? Analyze environment changes, changes in the number of users, and the global footprint with this particular vendor. Ask questions about software licensing options and get them in writing since new models are confusing for vendors as well. Present the choices as they relate to immediate and long term IT and organizational goals. Lay out choices and the consequences so that executive management is aware of the advantages of strategically managing the investment in software.
  • Has IT rolled out a virtualization technology without including you in the planning? Obtain information about the specific technology (virtualization has about 11 different models) and ask questions about the impact to hardware and software. Use that information to understand the consequences to ITAM and begin to incorporate the information into ITAM processes. In the meantime, identify for management the risk situation (better or worse) for software license compliance and the interrelationships of financial and contractual elements of this virtualization strategy for future IT goals.

Strategic thinking applies when working on both short and long term goals. The examples above illustrate thinking strategically in the short term through the robustness of the questions, delving into secondary impacts as well as accomplishing the main task. The educated and experienced IT Asset Manager has a clear opportunity to utilize superior understanding to reduce oversights and deliver unexpected value. Sometimes it is the unexpected or extraordinary contributions that capture awareness and cooperation rather than performing exactly as directed.

IT Asset Management business practices have a great deal to offer to IT, business units, and to the management of the organization itself. However, the larger the organization, the easier it is to become lost during periods of rapid change. It is also common to over-emphasize tactical thinking, resulting in a loss of strategic development. Since the IT Asset Manager role encompasses a broad spectrum of asset characteristics (financial, contractual, and logistical) as well as serving the entire organization, the opportunity is there to encourage strategic thinking. Making the commitment to strategic thinking leads to goal achievement even in difficult times, plus it creates a mindset that leads to ongoing success throughout our careers.

About the Author

Jenny Schuchert is the Content Director for IAITAM