I once worked for an organization that had more than 1000 desktops. The IT department manager maintained a handwritten list of the serial numbers for every single desktop. On a quarterly basis, the IT staff was responsible for verifying that the list matched the desktops that were actually deployed in each department.
The biggest problem with this method was that the list did not contain any information about the physical location of each PC. This was a problem because some of the departments were rather large. The first time that we were required to verify the inventory list, we ended up with approximately 20 PCs that we couldn't locate. All of those PCs were eventually accounted for, but it took the entire staff working together for approximately six hours to find them all. A lot of money could have been saved had the inventory list contained information about each computer's physical location.
If you use IT asset management software to inventory computer hardware, I recommend that you also use custom fields to enter the warranty information within the hardware inventory for each computer. When a computer experiences a hardware failure, asset management software can help you determine whether the computer is still under warranty. It’s much more efficient to retrieve the warranty information from the hardware inventory than it is to go hunting for a warranty card. You can also use the IT asset management software to keep track of warranty claim process information.
Almost every asset management package is designed to keep track of each computer's hardware configuration. However, hardware configurations tend to change over time, and you need to be able to keep track of those changes.
For example, many years ago, I worked at a place where one of the IT staff members was caught stealing memory out of desktop computers and then reselling it. This went on for months, and the employee’s theft was only detected because one of the department heads noticed that several of the PCs within the department were low on memory. If the asset management software that was in use at the time was designed to automatically detect and report on hardware configuration changes, the theft could have been detected a lot sooner.
Even if employee theft is not an issue in your organization, it is still important to track hardware configurations. After all, the help desk staff must be able to replace or upgrade hardware components in response to service calls, and you need to be able to reconcile those help desk calls against the hardware inventory so that you can bill the individual departments accordingly. Similarly, systems may need to be upgraded to handle newer workloads, and configuration reporting can help IT staff to identify the systems that are most in need of upgrades.
PC usage patterns are another often overlooked issue that should be tracked with IT asset management software. A lot of the asset management software packages on the market, such as Hewlett Packard Co.’s Asset Manager and GFI Max Remote Management, are agent-based, and the agent is usually designed to check in with a central server on a periodic basis. Generally, such packages also make it possible to generate an alert when an agent has not checked in for a certain period of time.
This capability is important because if an agent doesn’t check in, it may be an indication that there is trouble with the PC. For example, the agent may have been removed from the PC or damaged. It is also possible that the end user was out of the office for an extended period of time or that the PC was stolen. In any case, if an agent doesn't check in for a few weeks, then you need to look into the cause of the problem.
IT departments make a lot of purchases that often include computers, software licenses and parts that are used for repairs and upgrades. Because so much money is typically spent on such purchases, it is a good idea to use your asset management software to track IT spending and verify that the items purchased were actually received. You should also be able to perform reconciliation between purchase orders and inventory items. So if someone asks you about a purchase that was made on June 16, you can show them that the item was received and was issued to Joe in the finance department.
Every asset management package has different features and capabilities. Even so, it should be possible to configure most enterprise-class asset management packages to perform the types of tracking described in this tip. Of course, there are also standard features that are found in almost all asset management packages. For example, most asset management packages compile a variety of reports detailing aspects such as inventories, usage patterns and, in some cases, even the performance and health of monitored systems. A lot of the asset management products on the market also include help desk software that allows a monitored system’s entire service history to be stored alongside the inventory information. Some of these packages also offer remote management capabilities.
About the expert: Brien Posey is a eight time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. During that time he has published thousands of articles and has written or contributed to dozens of IT books. Prior to becoming a freelance writer, Posey served as CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also worked as a network administrator for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.
This was first published in July 2011