Working Together – What Service Management Should Mean to IT Asset Managers

By Jenny Schuchert, Independent Consultant

At the Beginning

When IT asset management started in the early 1990’s, IT service management (ITSM) had not yet penetrated the US. IT departments were organized around functions and platforms such as the network group, the server team and the security section. This structure made it easier for like-trained employees to work together, using the shared experiences to tackle installations, maintenance and upgrades efficiently. However, processes and the end user perspective were difficult to track with this style of organization. IT asset management and the asset repository often filled in, taking in additional data so that processes and customer ownership were tracked. It was easy to make a case for tracking configurations, custom code or patches. ITAM vendors quickly added flexibility and extensibility to their IT asset management repositories to meet the demand.

In a Service Management World

With the growth of service management and the application of the ITIL model for IT operations, IT departments are now structured around delivering and supporting services to their customers. Service catalogs list the services available, each defined by the resources used in that service and supported by lifecycle processes to maintain the value of that service. A service desk handles issues, defining the problem and notifying configuration management, change management or problem management groups according to standardized processes. Frameworks and standards defining or supporting service management are available from many sources including ITIL, COBIT and ISO/IEC 20000.

During this same time period, IT asset management business practices matured, encompassing the financial, physical and contractual elements of software and hardware through their lifecycle of use. Alongside service management, IT asset management has continued to flourish, providing the very important business management of IT. What is the relationship between the best practices of IT asset management and service management-driven IT department? Is there duplication, complementary functions or something in between?

I recently attended a Local Interest Group (LIG) for itSMF, a member-driven international organization dedicated to promoting and supporting service management frameworks. The Greater Cleveland LIG second anniversary Networking Meeting and Vendor Fair offered a great opportunity to talk with service management professionals as well as their vendor counterparts. Most of the vendors present were familiar names found at any IAITAM annual conference, although the product focus was the broader suite of service management products. Attendees working for corporations held titles such as Problem Manager, IT Service Manager and Configuration Manager. I interviewed attendees about the impact of service management and how IT asset management fits into the service management world.

Alignment of Perspective

The similarities in focus between ITAM and ITSM begin with ITSM’s emphasis on process and compliance to standards. While the old functionally-aligned IT department struggled with inconsistent processes, service management highlights the value of process and provides an infrastructure to guide consistent adherence to those processes. This change has unified the IT department.

“Before ITSM, we were functioning as silos within the department,” explained Michael Tarach, Vice President of the itSMF LIG and Problem Manager at Eaton Corporation. “With ITSM, we are now speaking one language and one set of processes.”

The new language is ITIL, which has taken commonly used terms and redefined them to be explicitly service focused. Everyone uses the same definition for process, asset, service transition or service catalog.

“The least that an IT asset manager should do is to learn the language so that it is easier to work together,” Tarach suggested.

Tarach also points out that IT has more of an external focus now that enhances the value of ITAM’s financial and contractual business practices.

“Instead of evaluating change as ‘how will this impact IT?’ we now think in terms of how a change will impact our customer,” stated Tarach.

ITAM as a Powerful Source

IT asset management was definitely part of service management and widely accepted as a value source of information and actual data.

“At the heart of service management is configuration management,” stated Dennis Melchi, Client Services Manager for Maryville Technologies, an independent IT professional services firm. “Configuration management has little value of its own, but instead provides data to enable all of the service management processes. IT asset management in turn is a primary data source for configuration management. Coordination between the two is essential.”

Understanding how the two work together operationally has been a source of confusion within organizations, especially as they begin to develop the service management repository. Termed a Configuration Management System, vendors offer a variety of products that build a Configuration Management Data Base or CMDB. Implementers without strong ITAM repositories are tempted to throw everything into the CMDB, turning the CMDB into a cumbersome data warehouse rather than the service focused repository defined by service management.

Implementers in organizations with successful IT asset management systems face the opposite problem of too much data in their IT asset management repository.

“Until recently, the ITAM repository was the only formal system available to place configuration data,” explained Scott Williams of National City Corporation. “ITAM became the dumping ground, losing the financial focus and taking on broader customer and resource data. National City’s creation of a CMDB and Configuration Management is helping regain the intended purpose of an ITAM repository. Together, we are tackling data concerns and collaborating on process improvements.”

Resolution of this data confusion is happening in a variety of ways depending on what is most efficient for the organization. Data belonging in the CMDB might continue to be fed from the ITAM repository or the processes may shift so that the ITAM program refocuses on financial and contractual aspects.

How should the ITAM repository work with the CMDB? Are they integrated? The answer to these questions is a definite yes says Melchi.

“Many of the implementations that I have worked on utilize the ITAM repository to feed the CMDB. ITAM has better controls to keep the inventory and financial data up to date than Configuration Management,” Melchi explained. “More recently, I have seen integrations mature to the point where data flow is bidirectional, from the CMDB to the ITAM repository as well.”

What data should be shared? Sue Ellen Sindler, Principle Consultant at CA and 11 year veteran of IT asset management explained that “The data elements important to both systems and typically present in both are the location, make/model, and serial number of the asset. Additional data that is relevant to the assets in a service and is resident in the ITAM repository includes licensing, warranty, maintenance, purchase date, contract limitations, users, and the end of life status.”

Plans will obviously be influenced by the historical success of IT asset management as well as the choice of automation for both efforts. Commercial software is available to support service management processes and the philosophies and best practice a particular tool set may be widely different from another. Involvement with product selection or at least obtaining an overview of how the service management software works is an important learning goal for the IT asset manager.

Role of the IT Asset Manager

After the itSMF meeting, I realized that more insight was needed into the role that the IT asset manager should have in a service management IT department. I spoke to Scott Fuzer, Vice President of the ITAM practice for Five9 Technologies, an IT management consulting firm which focuses on ITSM, ITAM, and Project and Portfolio Management (PPM). He provided information about how ITAM fits in and how the working relationships shift.

“ITAM and the IT asset manager must now play a much larger role in the lifecycle management of a service. At first, ITAM only provided financial data without any context to relate those numbers to a service. That must change to the terms provided by ITSM as ‘services’”.

“I would recommend that any organization seeking to integrate process frameworks form an ITSMO (IT Service Management Organization) which includes the ITAM manager and team as well as the ITSM team. The goal of this group is to ensure that the programs are aligned while still meeting the separate goals of ITSM and ITAM programs. What I mean by this is that the goals of the organization (through the ITSMO) define which people will work together. If the corporate goal is to improve service, then the IT asset team works with the Incident, Change, Release, Configuration, and Service Level Management teams. If the goal is cost transparency and/or cost savings, then the team is a cross section of the ITSM, ITAM, and perhaps the PPM team. The result is that a ‘service’ becomes the glue that joins all of the best practice frameworks within IT and the more integrated the ITAM team is to services the greater their ability to continue to show value to the organization.” Fuzor explained.

Next Steps for the Career-Oriented IT Asset Manager

Now is the time to get on the service management bandwagon if you haven’t done so already. If you haven’t, step one is to become familiar with service management terminology and the infrastructure and standards that your organization is using to guide their implementation. Many good resources are available and some quick searching of the web will yield references. Your own organization may offer service management overviews and training for you to use to orient yourself. Service management terms can be confusing at first because new definitions are applied to terms that you use every day. Also, the world of service management does not completely overlap with IT asset management. Once again, it is the old Venn diagram of overlapping scope, but each with responsibilities outside of that overlapped area of shared interest, data and responsibility.

The second step is to become involved with the service management implementation, establishing or joining the ITSMO that Fuzer described. Relate your goals to those of the service management initiative and join the projects that can benefit from ITAM data or the ITAM processes. Financial data is the most important aspect and should be the starting point.

And finally, step three is a re-examination of the role of IT asset management so that your time and efforts produce the greatest results for the organization.

Service management has great momentum and is becoming the standard, expected methodology for IT management. IT asset managers should fit themselves into ITSM to take advantage of the strengths while continuing to provide the business management of the IT assets. These IT assets underlie all that is offered as a service and remain the essential focus for IT asset management.