Cross-Group Communication – Avoiding Unintentional Chaos

By Russell Parker

One of the interesting things about IT Asset Management is how many different parts of the IT organization we touch in order to do what needs to be done. Amongst all the other roles of ITAM, this makes us uniquely suited as a communication bridge between groups. Especially in large organizations, it is extremely easy for those involved in one part of the IT infrastructure asset lifecycle to be disconnected from those who deal with other aspects of it. ITAM is often the only group which has the overall end to end picture. The groups responsible for the actual tasks within the lifecycle are often unaware of what is up or down stream from them. Putting these groups in touch with each other and making them aware of how they all fit together can be a relatively easy side benefit of our core efforts.

Most of the time people are willing to help

These days, there are not a lot of employees who just sit around wishing for more work to fill up their copious free time. Generally speaking everybody has a full workload. Despite that, in most of the organizations I have worked with, people in other groups are usually willing to help if they understand the reasons for what is being asked. Better still, when ITAM asks for help it does not tend to be a one-way street. Often, the worst pain that one group is suffering comes from something upstream which can be fairly easily changed. The upstream group generally has no idea of the havoc being wrought downstream from them by some of their processes. Putting these groups in touch with one another is often all it takes and ITAM can serve as a sort of “match maker” by keeping alert and aware of the potential to do so.

Examples of Downstream Chaos

No software inventory tool finds everything all the time. One of the real challenges to those who administer these tools is keeping on top of new software being deployed in the environment. In some cases the deployment and discovery tools are the same or the functions are handled by the same team. However, in many organizations the functions are done by separate tools and/or teams. It is a relatively minor cost to the Packaging/Deployment folks to include the Discovery people in their process to validate software will be discovered when deployed. This gets Discovery out in front of the problem rather than finding out their inventory tool “lost lock” on a piece of software months after a patch or new version is released into the environment.. Better still, having these groups talking can make Packaging aware of some of the reasons and value for adding something to their processes such as the creation and inclusion of software tags. Additions like this are relatively low cost for the upstream group and have a number of downstream benefits. Unless these groups talk to each other there is no way for the value of something to be communicated upstream.

The basic inventory tracking aspect of ITAM often receives feeds from procurement. This can be a dream or a nightmare. The single biggest factor in determining which it is going to be is whether the procurement system uses a standard catalog. Anything entered in by hand becomes a reconciliation/normalization disaster downstream from procurement. For the person buying the items it may be no problem since they are reading the PO line description and can interpret it easily despite small variations. Those small variations are devastating when automating feeds between systems. Procurement folks would generally prefer to have a nicely defined catalog, but it might not be enough of an issue for them in isolation to push for it. If all the downstream costs are factored in then the equation changes and pushing for a standard catalog now becomes viable.

How involved does ITAM get?

We can take a more active role than just being a “match maker” and add a lot of value by doing so. Consider engaging with the groups involved in various steps of the lifecycle to identify areas where they can work together. Couple this effort with a larger discussion around what the current state of the asset lifecycle is and what a more ideal future state could be. Because of how it touches everything, IT Asset Management is uniquely positioned to lead discussions like this. In-person workshops can be ideal, but in larger organizations or ones which are geographically dispersed, that may not be feasible. Also, it is often easier to pull people together for smaller chunks of time. A way which I have seen work extremely well is to host a couple of calls to cover the overall asset lifecycle at a high level and include a broad audience. As an output of these initial calls, identify who is interested in which phases and then follow these up with a series of calls diving into more detail on specific processes and use cases for each lifecycle phase. At a minimum, the audience for these calls should include representatives from the groups directly involved and the groups responsible for the phases directly up and downstream from the one the call is focused on. This gives everyone a general idea of the overall lifecycle, how they fit into it and more details on the specific implications of their actions on those “next” to them.

In addition to the three main deliverables, these calls raise awareness of ITAM as a strategic function through the IT Asset Manager’s cross-group facilitation and leadership role. All too often we are seen as just glorified inventory managers. ITAM really comes into its own when managing the overall lifecycle of our IT infrastructure assets and the financial stewardship of the capital our companies have invested. Anything which helps shift our organizations and executives perception of ITAM towards those higher functions is valuable to us in the long run.

About the Author

Russ Parker is the President of Golden Ratio, Inc.