Audit Wizard version 4 from Layton Technology performs a comprehensive audit of PCs, with or without the user’s knowledge. It collects data pertaining to software, hardware, and peripherals and writes it to a database located on a server or PC. Once in the database, warranty and license information can be added and variance reports produced. The integrated Report Wizard supplies a number of canned reports and provides an easy interface for fast custom report writing. The Alert Monitor add-on offers the extra functionality of real-time or on-demand monitoring of any defined PC changes.

Audit Wizard’s installation requirements are extremely minimal: It requires a 400-MHz PC or server with just 64 MB of RAM and 20 MB of disk space, running Windows 9x/ME/NT/2000/XP. For medium to large organizations, there is also a SQL version (SQL 7 or 2000). A database for 100 PCs typically doesn’t grow larger than 1.5 MB, and the program can audit any Windows 3.1/9x/ME/NT/2000/XP or DOS PC. In our test case we audited 186 assets for over a year, and the database never exceeded 88 KB.

Quick and easy installation
Installing Audit Wizard is simply a matter of running the installation wizard. The install can be performed either on a workstation connected to the network or on a network server. Server installation is recommended unless only one person will use the program.

Regardless of the program’s location, you’ll need to save the scanner program in a sharable location and set up a folder for the temporary storage of the scanned data. The wizard walks you through the entire process, however, and the whole installation process takes one to two minutes and doesn’t require a reboot.

Preparing for an audit
Before performing an audit, you must define your company structure. This process is greatly simplified by using the Company Structure Wizard, shown in Figure A, which steps you through the process of creating a hierarchy of locations.

Figure A
Audit Wizard Company Structure Wizard

Decide on a logical configuration that suits your organization before starting the wizard. The hierarchical structure created will become the visual framework of the Audit Wizard interface. With this in mind, design a structure that will best serve as a visual aid to help you locate, identify, and manage individual computers.

Select a scanner method
After you’ve defined the Company Structure, decide on a method, or methods, to gather the information. Computers can be scanned by one of the following means:

  • Manual—The scanner configuration is copied to a disk, which the auditor can then use to manually scan PCs, saving the information back to the disk to be loaded to the database at a later time.
  • Automatic—The scanner runs from the server on a predefined schedule. This method is limited to gathering only that data that can be automatically detected (e.g., hardware and software). Automatic scans can be initiated by a logon script or group policy.
  • Semi-Automatic—This method is the same as Automatic except that the initial scan is performed by the auditor who is sitting at the computer being scanned. This allows any custom fields to be captured and a name to be assigned. If fully automatic, the computer is given its unique Network name.
  • E-mail—The scanner program is sent as an attachment and, after being initiated by the recipient, will run automatically. The returned audit results can be set up to automatically upload to the database.

From a support point of view, one of Audit Wizard’s most appealing features is that none of the above options require any software to be installed on the audited computers. And in the case of the automatic scan, the audit can be run completely undetected by the user. The user will be aware that their computer is being audited only if they happen to notice a brief impact on performance and know how to invoke Task Manager.

Unfortunately, for reasons I have yet to determine, automatic audit scans on certain computers sometimes fail to run. No error or failure message is generated; the scanner simply doesn’t start. In these circumstances, it is usually still possible to run an audit manually and, in most cases, the automated scans function again once a successful manual audit has been conducted. To deal with this issue, we routinely run a Last Audited Date report to find the computers that are being overlooked.

Configure the scanner
The settings for the scanner are defined using the Build Scanner Wizard, shown in Figure B. This can be used to create several different configurations for different circumstances. For each configuration, first select a deployment method of network, manual, or e-mail. Then chose a location to store the scanner and a location for the temporary storage of the results, and select the operation mode for the scanner:

  • Non-interactive
  • First time interactive
  • Interactive

Figure B
Audit Wizard Build Scanner Wizard

Next, select the information you want to audit. The Advanced buttons allow further refinement of your selections. Finally, select the number of days between audits.

Browse the data
After designing your structure and initiating your auditing plan, you can start to use the data you have gathered.

Audit Wizard’s main screen, shown in Figure C, is divided into two panes, with a listing of your locations and assets on the left and detailed information for the selected asset property on the right.

Figure C
Audit Wizard main screen showing details of the Environment Strings property

If the asset information is gathered automatically, each asset is identified by its unique network name. If the information is gathered interactively, the asset may be given a name by the auditor. In either case, any asset can be renamed at any time. In most cases, even if the name of the asset is changed in either the database or on the computer itself, as long as Audit Wizard can read the MAC address from the BIOS, it knows that the two names refer to the same physical object. If a computer is given a new unique network name, at the next audit upload the auditor is given the option of updating the existing asset or creating a new one.

I particularly like this feature because our previous auditing tool, TrackIt! 3.0, would simply create a new asset for a renamed computer, making it difficult to track computers through their life cycles.

Browsing assets and their properties is simply a matter of clicking on the asset to expand it and selecting the property you need to examine. One feature of particular note is the History Property, shown in Figure D, which stores a history of all detected changes by date of audit.

Figure D
Audit Wizard showing details of the History property

This feature is a particularly useful troubleshooting tool for support techs who sometimes need to ascertain precisely what changes occurred and when on a specific computer.

Analyze the data
The integrated Report Wizard comes standard with a set of canned reports and an easy-to-use tool for creating custom reports. Most reports can be produced within just a few minutes. Any fields within the database can be used as the selection criteria for generating a report. Reports to show licensing shortfalls, expired warranties, unauthorized applications, and computers below standard specifications can all be created, saved, and run with minimal effort. For example, Figure E shows the processor speed of several machines.

Figure E
Audit Wizard example report: Processor speed

Reports can be sorted on any field, and printed or exported to .txt or .csv format. Although easy to use, the report tool possesses only the simplest facilities for data analysis and report formatting. I have tried to use both Access and Crystal Reports for producing more sophisticated reports, but have been unsuccessful in accessing the data even though it is stored in an Access database. The ability to use such a universal report writing tool as Crystal Reports, and/or the ability to export to a greater variety of formats, would be a nice enhancement.

Stay alert!
The Alert Monitor add-on—which may be bundled with Audit Wizard, depending on how you purchase the product—provides real-time or on-demand monitoring of any unauthorized activity. The auditor defines “unauthorized activity” by using the Alert Monitor Wizard to create specific monitors. For example, a monitor could be created to raise an alert each time an application is installed. Imagine the impact on the user when they receive a phone call from the IT department just minutes after installing that game they bought at lunch and just couldn’t wait to get home to try.

Each monitor can be set up to notify the auditor of changes by one or more of the following methods:

  • E-mail
  • On screen alert
  • Log entry

My IT department uses the e-mail alert system. If the Audit Wizard administrator program is open when an event occurs triggering an alert, the Alert Monitor opens the local e-mail account and sends a message to the designated recipient. Be aware that if you have more than one e-mail profile set up on the local computer, the Alert Monitor doesn’t know which one to pick and will prompt you for a selection. Moreover, alerts can only be sent if the administrative program is open.

Because of this, I recommend running the administrative program on a dedicated computer with a single e-mail profile. Having an e-mail profile reserved just for Audit Wizard is also good practice because I’ve occasionally found that once the alert monitor generates an e-mail message, all messages sent from the same profile—with the exception of those sent by the alert monitor—are sent twice.

Obviously, monitors scanning computers for changes can have an impact on both local computer and network performance. For this reason, it’s best to configure monitors only for those events for which an instant notification is beneficial. The frequency at which scans are performed is defined on a per monitor basis, and can easily be modified to best suit your particular needs.

Cost and licensing
Audit Wizard costs $495 for up to 50 PCs, $995 for up to 200 PCs, $1,495 for an unlimited license, and an additional $995 for the SQL version. A free evaluation version is available for download. Support for the first year is free and $195 for each subsequent year. Layton Technology frequently runs special offers bundling Alert Monitor and Support Wizard with the base product. The soon-to-be-released Audit Wizard HelpBox, a Web-based package for managing internal IT support, is promised to fully integrate with Audit Wizard to provide a complete solution.