An ITAM Journey – Staying in Your Lane Leads to Long-Term Satisfaction

By Ken Davis, ProQuest LLC

Dear fellow IT Asset Managers;

My name is Ken Davis and I am celebrating my nineteenth anniversary with ProQuest, LLC, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I have spent my entire career in Information Technology – even before it was commonly called IT! My job title for the last fifteen years has been Systems Administrator, but over the last eight years one of my primary roles is that of an Asset Manager. I am the only employee with this role, but my official title remains System Administrator. I am sharing my story with you because I don’t think my experiences in ITAM are unusual. I want to encourage those that have a similar story to not become frustrated and to stick it out through the rough times. When I was teaching my twin sons to drive a few years ago, I would often remind them to “drive the speed limit and stay in their lane.” I did not realize it at the time, but this was advice I would need to take myself.

Eight years ago, my company had to make some work force adjustments and several employees lost their jobs. On the Monday morning after the new organization charts came out, I recall stepping into my cube to find several boxes of Certificates of Authentication (COAs) on the floor. When I asked my boss about these boxes, he reminded me of a conversation we had concerning licenses. Actually, the conversation had nothing to do with what was coming my way… For the next few weeks, it became a pattern for me to come to work and find boxes of licenses and proof of purchases in my cube. As a practical person, I did not turn down the assignment or frown about the mess. Continuing to “drive the speed limit and stay in my lane,” I started setting up spreadsheets and categorizing the licenses.

Over the next year or so, I discovered another aspect to this role was managing license keys, and as you might guess, more spreadsheets were required. I am sure you are not surprised to read that I prepared eagerly for my next performance review, anxious to talk about tools and training to assist me in this role, as well as the most important points…compensation and an Asset Manager’s job title. Like many of you, I received none of these items. However, I did get boxes of Compact Discs to be recycled.

It came to someone’s attention that we should not just throw CDs in the garbage. I don’t know who in the company started to point folks in my direction (let’s just call him Pete), but soon I had thousands of these things to deal with, or become buried in them. Hmm, buried… I found a company in Chicago that used them for mixing in with concrete, so I sent them off to be buried instead of me. With that success Pete, that same dude who started sending CDs my way, thought it would be smart to send that clever guy who got rid of the CDs every darn thing we didn’t need that remotely related to electronics. Following my own advice again, I did not complain about Pete or lose my cool (or my job), I just continued to drive the speed limit and stay in my lane.

Two years passed and my Asset Manager role expanded again, inheriting license and maintenance contracts to review and renew. I still reported to the Director as a Systems Administrator and continued to retain the duties associated with that role. At the time, there were three other System Administrators, but I was the only one with these additional responsibilities.

The next big challenge came from the finance department where the decision was made to split vendors into two categories, those whose products supported our product and those vendors whose products did not. Two separate cost centers were created to track the vendors and to pay the invoices. My secret pal Pete decided that the transition and payment going forward was a job for Superman. However, since Superman is fictitious, my name was the only one that came up.

For that next performance review cycle, I just knew this asset management work had grown into a full time position. I inquired about the possibilities for the big three…tools, training and title. To my surprise, the answer was “we’ll look into it,” but the research was soon lost in HR. This time, I ignored my usual advice to stay in my lane and pulled over to the side of the road and took it upon myself to get in touch with the HR representative responsible for IT employees. I got the answer I was expecting… “uh, no…ain’t gonna happen this year guy.” So, you know what came next. I figuratively got back on the road, pulled into my usual lane and went up to the legal speed, still calling that lane contentment. Now, my job included monitoring and reviewing invoices. I assisted the director in the each budget forecast cycle. I did not know how much fun this work could be!

Over these same years, while I focused on software and my other duties, the IT department was under the assumption that the organization’s hardware was purchased. At this point in my asset management tale, we found out that the hardware was leased, with the first of these leases due to expire. I’m certain it was Pete who suggested that I take on this role as well. That was my entry into the nuances of hardware asset management and leasing.

Meanwhile, the economy wasn’t doing well and the organization had to again make some cuts in personnel. The director to whom I reported lost his job and the responsibility for managing those cost centers became my sole responsibility. The new director had signing authority for these cost centers, but the knowledge of the products in them was clearly with me, so I retained all the attributes of the role. To my surprise, the reorganization following the change in staffing created a counterpart for me. This person was given some additional cost centers and products that I knew about but had not been managing. Away we went, staying in our lanes.

While I was no longer responsible for duties outside of asset management, my job title remained that of a System Administrator. My counterpart and I took hold of our responsibilities and together we started to put structure around our jobs. I was certain we were going to get promoted. Once again, these hoped-for changes did not happen. Economic conditions forced the director out and my counterpart was told to transition her duties to me.

Over the next few years, we worked on returning all of the leased hardware or buying it out. I had the responsibilities formally held by three people. However, at this point in my career and the company’s struggle to maintain the business during bad times, I was thankful to God for having a job. At performance review time, I was not willing to inquire about the big three (tools, training and title). As any seasoned driver who has driven in bad weather will tell you, drive the speed limit and stay in your lane on bad roads. The bad weather analogy adds in the important advice to stay focused, keeping both hands on the wheel.

The surprising end to this work story is that if I believed in Guardian Angels, mine would be named Pete. Pete has sent many responsibilities my way over the years. As a result of doing that work, I now report to the Executive Director and I am the primary liaison between the finance, purchasing and accounting departments. I own and manage those four cost centers that I have mentioned, including having signing authority for them. I have assisted our developers in setting up work flow necessary to launch a new iProcurement system. I am the authority on asset disposition and shipping. I manage all Multi-Function Devices (MFDs) and have secured a single source to manage all MFDs in the USA. Business units solicit my expertise before entering into any license or maintenance agreement. Last year, I was finally able to take training and became a Certified Software Asset Manager (CSAM) as well as a Certified Hardware Asset Management Professional (CHAMP). We have budgeted for an online discovery tool and the expectation is to have one in place this year. We have a project to configure a module within the Oracle e-Business suite called Oracle Asset Tracking. This module, along with the inventory module, will serve as our ownership database. No more spreadsheets ya’ll!

Definitely, my organization has realized the need for Asset Management. And while there have been many improvements, the monetary savings are viewed as a trickle. The expectations for what an IT Asset Management program can deliver are still small. My company still does not recognize the title position of Asset Manager. But I’m good with that. Our HR rep told me recently that a survey of IT Asset Managers yielded that they are paid far less than System Administrators. Thank God for all those rejections…

I’d also like to thank Pete and the life advice that allowed me to accept change, even when hoped-for compensation did not arrive. My reward has been a steady road trip during rough times, with lots of new things to learn as well as the respect of my company’s management. I encourage you to keep your hands on the wheel, don’t try to go too fast and stay in your lane. You will eventually reach your destination.