Best Practices for IT Asset Discovery and Inventory Management
Many years ago, I worked for a restaurant in a small beach town. One of my duties was to help the owner of the restaurant take an inventory of everything at the end of each month. I remember asking the owner why inventory was so important. He said; “It’s simple. When I know what I have, I know what I don’t have. When I know what I don’t have, I only buy what I need.”
Taking inventory before spending money is a simple concept; however, cloud solutions, IoT assets, virtual environments, and emerging technologies are presenting new discovery and inventory management challenges for IT departments in many organizations.
IT asset discovery is a defined process to discover and document IT assets that are on the network. Discovery processes require software discovery tools that scan a network and identify devices that are connected. Multiple discovery software tools are often used to meet IT asset management (ITAM) discovery requirements.
Inventory management software solutions include a database and software tools that document IT assets found by discovery tools, bar code scanners, manual uploads, manual entry, or from Business to Business connectors. ITAM best practices suggest that inventory management databases should link IT assets to relevant information such as associated contract or financial information.
When IT asset discovery and inventory management processes are not properly executed, asset data will be unreliable. Therefore, it is critical to have the right tools and processes in place to ensure that every asset is discovered and properly tracked by inventory management tools.
IT Asset Discovery Best Practices
Identify IT Assets That Will Be Discovered
It is important to be successful, so keep it simple in the beginning. Start with laptops, desktops, and software. Allow the ITAM solution to mature over time. Be sure to work with stakeholders throughout the organization to define a strategy for discovering IT assets on the network.
In a report titled How Redefining IT Asset Management Will Enable Business Transformation for the Digital Age, Gartner recommends that, “As ITAM policies shift, IT asset managers should proactively work within the IT strategy planning process to identify what will be acquired, why it will be used, its anticipated useful life, and how it will be secured, monitored and maintained. Identifying the business value of the asset and having the ITAM leader and stakeholders map this to the business outcome is important for proper governance of current assets and those yet to be deployed.”
Identify Discovery Tools
Network discovery software and bar code scanners are tools that help IT asset managers discover and track their IT assets. Don’t be afraid to use multiple discovery tools to meet your IT asset discovery requirements. Some discovery tools are better at discovering datacenter software, while other discovery tools are better at discovering endpoint devices.
Take advantage of network solutions already installed on the network, such as security tools that have discovery capabilities. Don’t let discovery limitations in a single discovery tool dictate your discovery requirements. Define your requirements and then choose the right tools to meet those requirements.
Define a Discovery Process
Define and enforce a discovery process to ensure that all IT assets are properly counted. Document the assets in an inventory management database when assets are purchased, then use bar code scanners of software tools to document lifecycle changes to the asset. With lifecycle management, IT administrators will be able to see what assets have been purchased, shipped, received, and assigned.
Be sure to define a process to discover or document IT assets that are acquired outside of normal procurement processes.
Normalize the Data
Normalize discovered data to ensure accuracy. We often see hardware or software assets change how they report their asset information to inventory databases. For example, a Microsoft application could potentially report its vendor ID as “MS” “Microsoft,” or “Microsoft Inc.” Inconsistent naming conventions make it difficult to build IT asset reports; therefore, it is important to ensure consistency by implementing asset normalization processes. Asset normalization can be accomplished using database scripts or normalization software tools.
Inventory Management Best Practices
Define an IT Asset Lifecycle
Build an inventory management process that documents the lifecycle status of each IT asset. Asset lifecycle information will show IT administrators if an asset is in use, in storage, checked out, available, or retired.
IT asset management best practices suggest that IT assets should be documented from the moment they are purchased until they are retired. When a lifecycle status is added to an asset, IT administrators can create reports showing assets that have been purchased, shipped, and received. Asset managers will be able to identify IT assets that are available for projects and new employees or assets that are being serviced.
Furthermore, tracking the lifecycle of IT assets gives IT asset administrators the ability to see what hardware assets need to be refreshed, or what software licenses need to be renewed, giving them vital information needed for making future IT purchases.
Determine If IT Assets Should Be “Managed” or “Unmanaged”
Determine the risk associated with IT assets and then place them in one of the following two categories: Managed or Unmanaged.
IT assets that contain proprietary data, such as laptops, desktops, servers, and mobile devices should be placed in the managed category. IT assets that support operational requirements that do not contain sensitive data, such as hubs, monitors, and printers (without hard drives) should be placed in the unmanaged category.
Managed devices should be equipped with software agents that “check-in” to the inventory database on a regular basis. Asset managers should setup alerts to notify them if an asset does not “check-in” within a pre-determined period.
While in storage, devices with sensitive data, such as a server containing customer data, should be monitored using bar code scanners or software tools, such as RFID, that will notify security if a device is removed from a predefined location.
According to Gardner, “A fundamental prerequisite to any effective asset management strategy must be the ability to address whether the asset is a flight risk or is at risk of being stolen. A partial asset management process for tracking data center assets may be able to track a server with customer information while it is on the network, but once it is in a storage room, there is a risk associated with the asset being lost or stolen.”
Define an Asset Mapping Strategy
Add meaningful data to your inventory by mapping IT assets to relevant information, such as:
- Cost Centers or Departments
- Configuration Management databases
- Compliance Definitions
When IT assets are mapped to relevant information, IT asset administrators will be able to add value to their organization by providing meaningful IT asset reports that contain insights into security risks and overall IT asset operational costs. Today, there are many software tools available that give asset managers the tools required to map IT assets to contracts, purchase orders, shipping information, cost centers, and much more.
Choose software tools that let you add relevant information to your IT assets.
Automate IT Asset Processes
Automating IT asset processes will increase productivity in addition to reducing risk. Mistakes that are typically made by humans can lead to inaccurate data. A good place to introduce automation is with processes that contain repetitive-non-value-added tasks that are typically performed by a human technician. Consider replacing human technicians with automation tools that can perform redundant tasks.
ITAM solutions require discovery and inventory software tools to properly document IT assets. Define discovery requirements before choosing software tools. Choose inventory management tools that allow you to map IT assets to relevant information. To ensure success with your ITAM solutions, keep it simple in the beginning and then allow your solution to mature. Track assets by defining an asset lifecycle and be sure to consider automating redundant tasks to avoid mistakes made by human technicians.