If you’re like me, you’ve probably been lucky enough to work for companies where the IT department approved all the orders and built and installed all the machines. On the flip side of the coin, you’ve probably also worked for companies where, much to your dismay, PCs were ordered by anyone who could push through a purchase order.

If you’re currently using the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method for ordering, installing, and rebuilding end-user machines in your shop, here are some tips for getting a handle on your computer inventory. After you’ve looked over my suggestions, take a minute to share your own tips and tricks for controlling the inventory process.

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IT owns the network
You can’t adequately manage your computer inventory if you don’t “own” the network. Whether the company has 20 employees or 20,000, no box should get connected to the network without being certified by IT. If that isn’t the way it is in your organization, it’s time to make it that way.

End users and their managers are capable of deciding what equipment they need to do their work and how much they can afford to spend. So taking ownership doesn’t necessarily mean you have to control each and every purchase decision.

Once the purchase decisions are made, however, taking ownership means prohibiting anyone except designated IT staff from adding users or devices to the network. You only need two words to justify centralizing all access to the network: information security. The departments can buy the machines, but IT is responsible for securing them when they connect to the network. One way to keep track of those machines is to properly identify them, both inside and out.

Tag, name, and SID the same
I’ve worked in shops where the computers were permanently tied to their physical locations. If you changed offices, you adopted the computer in your new office, so you had to copy all of your files from your old computer to a network share. The IT technician ghosted a new standard image on your “new” machine and then renamed the computer using the five-digit office location code. That number also appeared on a label affixed inside the doorjamb.

I worked in another shop where the IT department was routinely required to answer the following question: Can you reconcile the list of all computers purchased with all computers on the network? To help answer that question, the technicians in that shop used the following steps to configure a new (or reimaged) machine:

  • Tip 1: Affix a property identification tag (PIT) to the computer.
    Tracking hardware starts when the machine is unpacked out of the box. For new machines, the PIT contains a unique PIT number that will identify that computer as long as the company owns it. Your company’s insurance coverage may even require the use of such tags to identify company property.
  • Tip 2: Rename the computer using the PIT.
    This step takes place when the IT technician images a machine for the first time or reimages a machine that’s been in production. The technician uses the NewSID utility (a freeware product from Sysinternals.com) to reset the SID and change the name of the computer at the same time.

In this shop, computers are named using a letter in combination with the PIT number. For instance, the technician uses T plus the PIT number to designate tower systems, S plus the PIT number to designate servers, D to designate desktops, and L to designate laptops. Working from the command prompt, the technician enters this command in the form:
NEWSID /a computername

where computername looks like T0144624 or L013247931.

Note: At this writing, NewSID Version 3.02 is this IT department’s utility of choice for changing the SID after imaging a machine. NewSID is designed to work with NT4 Service Pack 6a and Windows 2000 Professional.

Who is watching your equipment list?

Are you responsible for keeping tabs on the hardware inventory in your shop? Do you like the tips suggested in this article? What methods does your IT department use to effectively track hardware? Post your comments about inventory control or e-mail Jeff.