Six Major Ways to Optimize ITAM – Your Action List for 2014

By Doron Gordon

2014 is fast approaching and the time has come to make your New Year’s IT resolutions. Gartner’s “Top Industries Predicts 2014” stresses that IT management will require some serious rethinking in the coming year, so I’ve compiled a list of a few IT asset management issues to consider.

“Last year saw many industry decision-makers focusing on adopting new technologies to improve business operations by addressing developments such as the convergence of social, mobile, and cloud,” said Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, vice president and analyst at Gartner. “Today, by contrast, leaders are significantly shifting their business models and processes.”

Ms. Harris-Ferrante also said that this trend is driven in part by the challenges of consumer empowerment and IT commoditization, which in many ways are greater than in the past, and are particularly difficult for traditional enterprises to address. The need to digitalize the business requires new approaches to information delivery, communication and transactions. Business leaders and CIOs must carefully assess their industry-specific strategic requirements, including the demands of consumers, to map out transformation plans based on new technology availability, consumer demographic/behavioral changes and market conditions.

Changes in overall IT management inevitably affect asset management in organizations. In fact, upgrading your ITAM is one of the fastest, and in many cases simplest, way to optimize general IT operations. Through strategic optimization (that doesn’t require fundamental changes), you can reduce the cost of asset management and by default overall IT management. You provide greater value to the business by freeing yourself to focus on service. All IT administrators and leaders should be prepared to revamp their ITAM strategy in a number of ways in 2014. The following are suggestions of where to start in optimizing your asset management in preparation for the new year.

1. Managing IT Risks

Fixing IT risks these days must extend beyond the standard “tell employees to create good passwords and change them often” – though this is still critical as the recent OutBrain security fiasco proved. The freedom of choice that many companies give their employees nowadays – whether it is by bringing their own device (BYOD) to work, or choosing which apps they want to use – complicates overseeing risks.

As they have done before, IT departments clearly have to watch out for threats such as viruses and worms that affect company devices. What’s different is that they now have to protect against them in a much more vulnerable environment and one that will only become more open to breaches throughout the coming year. The increasing diversity of services, programs, and devices in the workplace, a diversity that is constantly expanded by the BYOD mindset, can both create an influx of malware as well as an increase the risk of enterprise data leakage.

To stay on top of all of these increasingly complicated risks you need to know exactly what assets you manage within the company. When it comes to ITAM, IT security and risks can be mitigated and minimized by having an effective solution in place. It also helps to know where assets are and who is using them so that if breaches do occur, you can quickly pinpoint the cause and location.

Advanced management solutions are effective at securing “the risks of the future” because they send out agents to all laptops and devices. These agents report back to the IT department with information as basic as the asset’s model type, or as advanced as which outdated programs are installed. Solutions like this build a vitally transparent hardware and software inventory. They are important because they make it easy for any IT admin to instantly see if an employee hasn’t downloaded proper anti-virus, or is using suspicious software.

2. Asset Management for Mobile Devices

One of the biggest security threats that will continue to grow, as mentioned above as a result of BYOD, is through mobile assets. In 2012, Microsoft’s Trust in Computing Research project found that 67 percent of people use personal devices at work, regardless of the office’s official BYOD policies. This is frightening only when taken in conjunction with how little employees know about mobile security threats. The 2013 Data Protection Trends Research, conducted by the Ponemon Institute, tested 4,300 respondents worldwide. The researchers found that 77 percent of employees haven’t yet received any company education about the risks related to BYOD.

It isn’t surprising then that there will soon be a huge spike in compromised enterprise devices. According to Gartner’s “Top Predictions for IT organizations and Users, 2013 and Beyond” through 2014, employee-owned devices will be compromised by malware at more than double the rate of corporate-owned devices. This puts device and app management high on the priority list for business and IT leaders alike.

Security and support will go hand-in-hand as diversification of devices grows. Enterprises with BYOD initiatives should establish clear policies that outline which devices can be used, for what work purposes, as well as what can be downloaded on to them.

The bottom line is that mobile device management (MDM) will be an essential part of IT asset management in 2014 and beyond. IT departments will have to decide which devices employees are allowed to use, know what is installed on these devices, and where they are located.

Optimizing a company’s mobile asset management comes down to thoroughly reviewing, and if necessary, updating and extending the enterprise policy on mobiles. This also means that security professionals will need to monitor vulnerability and security incidents that involve mobile devices, and respond immediately with policy updates. Make sure your policies are dynamic enough and clear enough to all employees.

Again, what will become the essential aspect of updating an MDM policy is employing an asset management system that has MDM capabilities. This will allow IT critical insight into all mobile devices used within the company, while enabling them to potentially prevent mobile risks.

3. Contract and Software Use and Compliance

The bring-your-own mindset has already spilled over into the realm of software and services at enterprises. Besides the security risks that were highlighted above, this bring-your-own software trend also affects contract and license compliance at organizations. So, while you may have your hardware management down, software is a bit trickier and makes having a robust asset management solution all the more important.

In a nutshell, being software compliant means being able to demonstrate that you have the correct number of licenses paid for and accounted for on your systems. “Matched” compliance means you have reconciled original invoices that include upgrades from prior version software, so you also need to demonstrate that you have retained all the relevant media. This is complicated in the increasingly “clouded” world of software and enterprise services where subscription-based models are more and more common. Where before much of the software a company used could be purchased once, now you have to constantly watch out for renewal dates.

Unnecessary software licensing is also a big drag on budgets and one that can be easily avoided. IT departments can show quick increases in budget efficiency if they stay on top of these issues, but to do that they have to know exactly what is installed across the company’s network.

Optimizing this process has to involve opening clear communication lines with other departments so that it’s possible to know how many employees are using which programs. You can also optimize managing software usage by performing regular checks (through ITAM software agents) and sending simple surveys to departments to compare what software exists in the network with what is actually being used. This type of surveying is also important when it comes to staying compliant. When different departments download programs and then eventually stop using them, it is easy to forget to cancel subscriptions.

With regards to IT audits, a clear methodology for checking software usage, in addition to using ITAM software that automatically logs contract and subscription terms, is increasingly important. It is unnecessary to discuss the serious repercussions of finding yourself unprepared in the midst of an IT audit. Step out of line and you face the prospect of an expensive “true-up” process. You may also be saddled with fines and settlements if your organization is caught with an incorrect amount of under-licensed software on your systems.

At the end of the day, software asset management is an area that is quite easy to improve by taking simple steps that save a lot of money and headaches, so it’s a good place to start improving.

4. Tagging: QR codes are the new bar codes

As you’ve probably realized, the optimization tricks I’ve been offering center around effective organization. The same goes for clear tagging which is a real-world equivalent of creating a software inventory. Tagging using QR codes can make a world of difference for your ITAM. Everyone these days works with mobiles, and the overwhelming majority are smartphones that can read QR codes using simple apps. Good ITAM software also has tagging capabilities that allow you to print and save codes which can then be associated with assets.

With this kind of tagging, you get a twofold advantage: it becomes super easy to associate hardware with the information you have stored about its digital content; and you make it possible to give much more effective help desk service. Imagine that a service desk worker goes to take care of a faulty laptop. He can immediately scan the laptop’s code, without having to go back to his office or search the database, and know exactly how old the laptop is and what is installed on it. Tagging can help with productivity and promotes effective work by making it easier to stay organized.

5. Non-Managed Assets

We’ve discussed asset management when it comes to traditionally considered hardware and software, so it’s also worth mentioning a different, relatively simple way to optimize your inventory management. This can be done by considering the mostly overlooked non managed assets that exist in every organization: keyboards, screens, routers, and switches – down to the coffee machine (a critical IT asset itself). These kinds of assets are simple enough products that they don’t require too much time and energy to manage them.

The best way to do this is through the same tagging process mentioned above. This strategy is not to be overlooked. It is common to see too many hardware assets, like computer mice, in a large company that over-orders stock. Now and into the future, anything that optimizes costs and establishes IT’s credibility within the enterprise must be given adequate attention. Keeping close track of these assets is relatively easy, and it’s also easy to know how much money you are saving or wasting on them.

6. Cloud Budget for the New Year

It is obvious to everyone in IT that the enterprise’s cloud budget is only going to increase in the next few years. Even now, it’s already a large portion, if not the largest, of the IT budget in many organizations. A big warning for making the new cloud budget is not to get caught up in the frenzy. Over-provisioning of cloud space, i.e. buying more than you need, has become too common a symptom of this frenzy. A lot of organizations that deploy applications on public clouds are then surprised with extremely high bills that can be avoided.

One of the ways to optimize costs on cloud assets is to analyze your spending to identify unnecessary spending, unused resources, and over-provisioned services. These actions can significantly reduce costs because they give you an ongoing and proactive control of a growing, and increasingly complex, budget area. Visibility into how your budget is spent is the first step to optimizing cloud spending.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, from 2014 and onwards, it is key to treat and present enterprise asset management as a business investment. Every authority on IT management has deemed aligning IT with business goals as one of the top issues that IT departments face and must find ways to solve. As employees, and in turn the enterprise as a whole, begin to doubt the usefulness of the IT department, it has to be made clear that tech developments and changes are actually making ITAM more critical today than ever before.

About the Author

Doron Gordon is the CEO of SAManage.