Alice Walton, of Walmart fame, said in a New Yorker interview, “One of the great responsibilities that I have is to manage my assets wisely, so that they create value. I know the price of lettuce. You need to understand price and value. You buy the best lettuce you can at the best price you can.” Consumers (whether a single individual or a large organization) make decisions on price and value every day, from small purchases, like lettuce, to larger ones, like information technology products. No matter the underlying product, understanding price and value is critically important.
Challenges of Maintaining the Inventory for Your IT Assets
Sometimes organizations struggle, however, in the long-term management of assets once the excitement of the initial purchase wears off–particularly in the information technology field.
Technology assets evolve quickly, and often physical equipment changes and is upgraded for better functionality and utility long before physical components wear out. Software products often reach their end-of-seller-support long before the software becomes obsolete to an organization and end user. Adding to the complexity of the environment is the proliferation of “as-a-Service” options like platforms (PaaS), infrastructure (IaaS), and software (SaaS) delivered via cloud solutions. When an organization no longer manages physical technology components in-house, its data must be managed as a commodity across different service providers instead.
Updating Your IT Asset Inventory for the Modern Age
What’s the best way to keep track of all these assets? Enter the “old school” physical asset inventory, updated for the complexities of the information technology environment as it exists today.
In addition to items like hardware (servers, routers, computers, printers, storage systems, classroom technology and the like) and software, today’s modernized IT asset inventory also needs to include the following items to reflect the true value:
- Lifecycle status
- Outsourced service
- Point person
Let’s examine each of these components in more detail.
Especially for physical assets, it is important for the inventory to note the lifecycle stage for the underlying asset. Specifically, you should ask:
- Has it reached end-of-life?
- Is it still supported within the organization for a particular use?
- Has it been updated to the most recent operating version provided by a manufacturer or seller?
- Have unique configurations been implemented that should be noted at the organizational level?
Many organizations have turned to outsourced or cloud computing services for enterprise applications and infrastructure such as accounting, customer relationship management, learning management, etc. and you need to include these questions in your analysis:
- Where is the organization using cloud services to provide critical IT functions or infrastructure?
- Who is the point of contact for the cloud services?
- What is the service level agreement or SLA for service expectations during normal operations and in times of emergency?
- Is there a business continuity plan for the outsourced services?
You cannot overlook the importance of data when conducting your inventories as the value of data can sometimes exceed the physical cost of an asset or service. You need to ask these questions in your IT inventory analysis:
- Where is the organization’s most sensitive data located?
- Is it on organization-controlled IT systems, vendor-controlled systems, is it printed on paper and stored in a file cabinet?
- Are certain data elements subject to any regulatory requirements, which ones?
- How is the data secured and who can access it (both from within the organization and from a service provider)?
As IT environments and assets become more complex, designating a person (or team) responsible for administering the asset becomes more import. The point person is the one who is “in the know” regarding the underlying asset:
- Who is the point person and where are they in the organization?
- How does the asset fits into the organization’s overall IT infrastructure?
- Who helps coordinate specialized support and training when needed?
- Who is responsible for understanding the role of the asset in organization’s contingency planning efforts?
Benefits of Modernizing Your IT Asset Inventories
Organizations that modernize their asset inventories with lifecycle, outsourced services, critical data information, and point person are better prepared to deal with evolving technology landscapes. For example, the organization is especially poised to deal with technology and services that reach their end-of-life. The organization will be able to identify when a particular technology is no longer needed or will be able to expeditiously discontinue outsourced services when they are no longer needed. In both instances, it will also be able to identify data that must be retained, destroyed, or returned (from a service provider).
There are other benefits too. A well-documented and updated inventory provides a cheat-sheet of potential IT risks to be managed on an ongoing basis, as well as a directory of the stakeholders most interested in the smooth and efficient operation of assets. From identifying obsolete equipment and the individuals responsible for it, to knowing which IT services are outsourced and where precisely an organization’s most important data is located, the asset inventory can be mined for the most important information needed to properly manage, protect, and value an organization’s IT resources.
This post was authored by Senior Consultant Joanna Lyn Grama. who focuses on IT, information security, privacy and data governance for higher education.