The Cloud and IT Asset Management – Preparing People, Process, and Technology

By Jeanne Morain, Flexera Software

When I read posts debating whether the Asset Manager or the Desktop Field technician should be the one to input asset data into the Asset Management system – I cringe. It reminds me of the beginning of my career when I worked for the department chair of my University taking inventory of classroom equipment. I knew that as soon as I left that laserdisc player or other cool new gadget in the classroom, the teacher would move the equipment to a different classroom or office for me to manually reconcile later. That was nearly 20 years ago and yet today there is still debate on the best approach to managing assets. The “cloud” is not the future but is here and now. The future with clients in the cloud is even more daunting as the ability to freely move from one location will be virtually impossible to track manually.

How prepared are your people, processes and technology for the shift from static, secure assets to the dynamic cloud? During my research for my recent books1 my coauthors and I discovered that there were many obstacles that enterprises had to overcome. As some of the early pioneers of Business Service Management, we were curious on the overall effect virtualization was having on the very processes and systems created to track, monitor, and report compliance (license and regulatory) within Asset Management solutions. We are convinced that the cloud paradigm shift will have a significant impact on how we manage, track, deploy, and report on assets for years to come. It is important that all functional teams are aware and part of the overall planning process to avoid compliance (license, regulatory, business) issues.

The Cloud and Business Service Management Achievers

Similar to the shift to Business Service Management (BSM), we quickly discovered that the mixture of the cloud, the significant innovation it inspires and a more global, technical workforce has created dissonance for existing processes, skills, and solutions. Interestingly enough, the interviewees we spoke to that were the most aware and cautious about their cloud strategy were the early thought leaders of Business Service Management who had spearheaded tying the Asset Management Service Desk and Systems Management together. They realized that the cloud impacted all aspects of the business and if implemented correctly could be a significant competitive benefit. If thoroughly reviewed, the cloud could have just as significant of an impact to their organization and their careers. As a result the top performers we spoke to were the ones who had experience integrating people, processes and technologies together, creating workflows and tying automation into the entire system.

Many organizations are actively pursuing a cloud strategy without understanding the impact that such a strategy can pose to the business. As a result the Asset Management team may not always be included in the conversation. This is alarming because with BSM we found the absence of the Asset Management team created a significant gap in the understanding of people, processes and technology that caused failed projects, audit flags, and concern from the top. Top BSM performers made sure they included key individuals from functional groups (especially the Asset Management team) to proactively identify and avoid potential red flags from the beginning. This resulted in smoother pilots, production roll outs and relations throughout the process.

One of the most alarming trends was the confusion created for cross functional team members by oversimplified articles regarding the definition of the cloud and potential implications it would have on companies. Just like shoes, there is no “one-size-fits-all” cloud. They come in various shapes, sizes, and levels of complexity. They can either be just the Infrastructure (IaaS), a platform residing on top of it (PaaS), or software residing on either or both that can be deployed within the corporate network (private cloud), via a 3rd party (public cloud) or using both (hybrid cloud). Regardless of the cloud strategy your business deploys there are common threads that will impact Asset Management.

As you move from private to public to hybrid clouds, the risk and level of impact increases depending on the size of your organization, maturity of processes, and technology in place. The dynamic nature of the enabling technologies fueling the cloud (virtualization, run book automation, service catalogs, and new devices) has a significant impact on current systems. Some companies we spoke with made the mistake of thinking the cloud IS just virtualization and that because they have some experience with consolidating physical servers to virtual that their current processes will be fine. What they soon discovered is that there is much more to these elements that will require a shift across the board.

For example, the end state of a private cloud is not simple server consolidation but to provide IT as a service with a service catalog. This catalog could contain slices of virtual or physical compute power, applications, data or simple services that the consumer of IT would request, automation tools would route for approval, and dynamically or manually deploy. They also include dynamic tools that enable shifting virtual workloads across physical systems to ensure that service levels according to the catalog are being adhered to. Both the paradigm shift in ordering and dynamic provisioning of workloads could have a significant impact on Asset Management systems (people, processes and technology). An even greater impact will occur when those assets are shifted to 3rd party resources in public clouds and even more so in hybrid clouds.

Our research has indicated that the more manual the processes in place for Asset Management (discovery, reporting, and remediation) the greater the impact. The converse was also true so that the more automated and mature the Asset Management system, the less impact the cloud had, creating additional value for the business as a whole. Whether your company is knee deep in their cloud implementation or just thinking about their overall strategy, here are a few things Asset Managers may want to do to maintain compliance in the cloud:

  1. Re-evaluate your current processes. How manual are they? Are there upgrades or newer technologies that can help you automate them? Can some of the manual steps be avoided by deploying integrated systems such as a configuration management database that ties Asset Management and automated inventory tools together?
  2. Re-evaluate your current people. Do they know what a cloud is or what the company’s cloud strategy is? What various layers are parts of that strategy and what are the implications? Are there any people really interested in the cloud with sufficient background to be a good candidate to participate in cloud strategy meetings? If not, who is a good candidate for training? Is there a consultant that can help train the team and provide an overview to enable them to ask the right questions to IT?
  3. Re-evaluate your current tools and technologies. How well do your current systems work with dynamic cloud infrastructures (not just virtual servers)? Do your vendors have clearly defined offerings that help eliminate redundancy, de-duplicating records for shifting workloads, binding licenses to a virtual versus physical machine? Do they have a SKU library with reconciliation that provides usage reporting of physical and virtual assets? Can they support new chargeback, pay per use or other models being proposed by IT and software producers? If not, are there tools that can integrate to the current tools with this capability?
  4. Re-evaluate license and compliance requirements. Do your asset contracts and/or vendors for applications that are being proposed to be deployed in the cloud allow you to deploy in a 3rd party network? Or do they require a service provider license agreement when doing so? Have those additional costs been added to the equation PRIOR to approval? What is the vendor’s policy on hybrid clouds where assets are sent from private to public and back?
  5. Participate in planning, POCs, and deployments. If the Asset Management team is NOT part of the current cloud discussions beyond procurement then make sure that the CEO, CIO, and IT staff are aware of the potential impact and implications. Work with them to get involved or at least understand where you are today versus how their future endeavors could impact the business overall without the right level of tool sets and automation across functional groups. Use this opportunity to retool people, processes and technology.

Regardless of the stage your company is at in their cloud strategy, it is important to understand the risks, possible rewards, and what you can do to refine and retool current people, processes and technology for a smoother transition for Asset Management. As both regulatory constraints and the cloud become more critical and prevalent, so will the requirement to track, monitor, and maintain compliance. How clear or “cloudy” your journey is will vary greatly depending on what you do now to prepare. For more information please attend my session with my co-author at the IATIAM conference this year: Visible Ops Private Cloud.

1 Visible Ops Private Cloud, available on Amazon.com and Client4Cloud: TBD FY11