As IT professionals, we love new technologies. There’s nothing like getting a brand-new computer to replace an old, worn-out, used-and-abused device. At first glance, the new device looks great and must be more valuable—after all, it’s new. So, now we can just toss the old machine aside, right?
From an asset management point of view, nothing could be further from the truth, especially if you work in a highly-regulated industry like healthcare or finance. The most valuable thing about a device in any business environment is the data that it contains. That is one of the most important reasons for accurately tracking IT hardware assets. Loss, or even the perceived loss, of a device in some environments can result in enormous fines, not to mention the impact that bad publicity could have on the business.
The more the government gets involved in regulating how businesses handle their data, the more important IT hardware asset management will become. And this scenario isn’t unique to the United States; other countries, such as India and many European nations, have very strict guidelines on how assets must be managed to protect personal and private information.
Asset management is a time-consuming task, and larger organizations have a greater need for dedicated toolsets. What features should IT look for when selecting this type of software?
First, you must determine the level at which you want to track your assets. Do you want to track only those that are potentially data-bearing, or do you want to track any and all assets? From a regulatory standpoint, data-bearing assets are the most important, but it may be financially prudent to track other assets as well. The difference will be in the volume of equipment being tracked, and you will have to determine if you have the resources and infrastructure in place to follow them all.
An asset management tool should be able to follow the chain of custody of a machine from its purchase, through its useful life, to its final retirement. Ideally, when a new computer is purchased, the asset management system will monitor the recipient—whether the recipient is an end user or an IT fulfillment center—and log receipt of the machine. The system should be able to keep track of the device’s status automatically; if it either doesn’t change or fails to reach the intended status within a predetermined period of time, the system should generate an alert for follow-up.
If a device changes hands at any point, a new record should be entered into the system, to account for the new owner, new location, and new status. Likewise, if a device breaks and comes to IT support for repair, the record needs to be updated with the appropriate status. Updates of this sort should be an integral part of your department’s procurement and support processes. However, when processes fail, the system should be smart enough to alert the appropriate team so it can take action to ensure a quick recovery.
There will always be times when a device falls off of the network. After a predetermined time period, the asset management system should be able to automatically issue an alert so that a team member can follow up on the “missing” device and account for its status and location. When the team member updates the record, there should be a clear means of documenting the location of the machine as well as the reason it is not being used.
Finally, a good asset management system should be able to occasionally crawl the network looking for connected devices and report back with the information that’s most important to your business. This could be model types, locations, quantities, serial numbers and asset tags, or even types of peripherals and amount of storage. It should also be able to prioritize equipment recovery. This is especially important in the case of employee terminations. When a termination is amicable, device recovery can be a simple matter; when it’s not, rapid asset recovery could be critical to getting a data-bearing device returned to the business.
Asset management is really all about the chain of custody. When auditors come to call, they’re going to want to see that the business has a clear, detailed, and consistent means of tracking the location of data-bearing assets. A dedicated, effective asset management system is the best way to meet those requirements.
Michael Hanson has been involved with many aspects of IT over the past twenty-five years, from application development to desktop support. Today, Michael is a senior IT manager at UnitedHealth Group, Inc., where he proactively seeks ways to improve the delivery of service to more than 86,000 clients, through process improvement, knowledge and problem management, metrics and reporting, tool development, training, and business liaisons. He is a certified HDI Support Center Manager and he holds both his ITIL Foundation and Practitioner certificates. He is also the current chair of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board and a former member of the HDI Editorial Board.