10 ways organizations can cut costs with IT asset management

Many IT departments overlook opportunities to control costs, particularly when it comes to managing their assets. Here are a few things to consider when choosing asset management tools.

Even though IT budgets are on the rebound, most organizations are still under pressure to further reduce operational costs. You may have already taken steps to consolidate and rationalize your IT assets, but chances are there are still savings to be found by improving the way you manage those assets. According to Forrester Research, an enterprise's IT estate can often account for 50 percent of the total enterprise asset base and sometimes as much as 80 percent of capital expenditure [The Forrester Wave: IT Asset Life-Cycle Management, Q2 2009].

Despite that big chunk of change spent on IT assets, most organizations are not doing all they can to streamline those costs. In fact, Gartner estimates that as much as 20 percent of software licensing and hardware maintenance charges are incurred for assets that are no longer in use [Gartner, "Don't Overlook Opportunities to Save Costs on ITAM," March 2008].  While most organizations have some IT asset management (ITAM) procedures and tools in place, there is typically more that can be done to improve asset management and lower costs. IT departments need to adopt integrated automation solutions that not only give them a total picture of their asset and service lifecycles, but also reduce the cost and complexity of managing those lifecycles.

With the right tools, IT can easily take control of resource-intensive ITAM challenges -- such as discovering, tracking, auditing and managing -- to turn a situation of chaos into one of true value for the company. However, not all ITAM tools are created equal. For organizations to cut costs and improve asset management practices, IT organizations should keep these 10 things in mind.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: See clearly now

Accounting for each of your IT assets is the first step to maximizing your investment in your current hardware and software. IT departments must know the location, configuration, and usage history of every single asset to optimize their IT estate. With this information in hand, they can then determine the true value of each asset and eliminate those that eat up costs without giving a lot back to the business.

Unless you only have a handful of assets -- or an IT team with a lot of spare time -- the only way to quickly paint a picture of your entire IT asset landscape is through an automated discovery tool. The solution should not only discover what hardware, software, and non-OS device assets are in your network, but also how, when, and by whom your hardware and software is being used. This will allow you to easily identify assets that may be retired, redeployed, or reused and reallocate their costs accordingly. It will also allow you to automate routines to gather updated views and monitor changes.

2: Process, process, process

Whether small or large, organizations need a standard set of ITAM processes that align with the business and that are both measurable and consistent. While there are a lot of best practice frameworks to pull from, be careful not to try to jam a "square" process into a "round" organization. If the new process doesn't make your team's lives easier or demonstrate measurable benefits, people are just going to revert to the old way of doing things.

Accordingly, your ITAM solution needs to be flexible enough to support your unique processes without a lot of expensive configuration programming or consulting. It should also be so easy to use that it guides users through automating these new processes without causing them a lot of frustration over complexity, getting the process into live production and day-to-day administration. Clearly defined processes, which are automatically tracked and measured, will help ensure you have control over and can report on every IT asset within your network.

3: Compliance is key

Software license compliance is crucial; especially since vendor auditing is on the rise. According to a July 2009 report from Gartner, more than 50 percent of organizations had been audited by at least one software vendor in the last 12 months. ["Gartner Polls & Surveys Show an Increase in Software License Audits", 31 July 2009]

For this reason, you need to be constantly aware of any software that is overused or retired to ensure you're not operating outside of the terms of your agreements and putting your organization in a vulnerable position. This will allow you to meet vendor license obligations and avoid hefty fines and penalties. You can stay on top of this by implementing an ITAM solution that defines policies, continuously monitors your environment for disparities, and provides auditors with records of your software compliance levels.

4: Be green -- it's easy

Wasted energy is wasted money. Despite this, most computers are in use less than 20% of the time, as companies struggle to define, implement, and enforce power management policies across a distributed infrastructure. Most computers today have extensive power management capabilities, but IT often lacks the resources or automation to exploit these features to manage CO2 footprints and expenses throughout the day.

An effective power management tool will allow you to report on cost and energy savings to demonstrate the value to management. In addition, a power management tool will enable you to easily configure and deploy detailed power management policies tailored to your users' specific work patterns and needs around the clock. It should also have "wake-up" capabilities, so that IT technicians can still run updates, patches, and other maintenance functions after hours without having to leave all the machines on. Taking control of your power management is a win-win: Reducing energy consumption is good for the environment, and reducing costs is good for your bottom line.

5: Prevent unauthorized software and device usage

Data leakage or privacy breaches can cripple an organization. Yet many companies focus on external threats while forgetting to protect against internal risks, such as those that arise from the proliferation of removable devices. The loss of sensitive information (e.g., corporate financial data and customer data) is expensive to recover. An effective device management solution will allow you to define policies and automatically lock down unauthorized devices to ensure that confidential information doesn't go outside your walls.

6: Be proactive about patch management

It's important to constantly detect and analyze potential risks to your IT assets, such as missing security patches. Ensuring that systems are properly patched and up to date can seem daunting and time consuming; however, with 90% of attacks coming from security holes for which patches have already been issued, missteps and delays in the patch process could be extremely costly to the business. For this reason, it's imperative to implement a comprehensive patch management solution that can automatically identify missing patches and critical fixes, even to devices only periodically connected to the network or whose location is unknown. This will not only help alleviate the hassle typically associated with the patch management process, but greatly reduce security risks and unplanned downtime.

7: Don't be vulnerable

As is the case with patch management, it's essential for organizations to be proactive about mitigating potential IT asset vulnerabilities, such as abnormal usage, brute force attacks, or denial of service and Trojan horses. Bad vulnerability management practices can be expensive and seriously disruptive to productivity. To avoid this, look for a solution that can automatically and continually scan network assets to identify, assess, and automatically remediate vulnerable or non-secure configurations. This will allow you to quickly determine the impact of vulnerabilities across the business and instantly fix the problem, which ultimately makes the organization more secure at a much lower cost.

8: Solve problems remotely

Productivity and money are often wasted when someone from the IT staff needs to stop by a user's desk to resolve an issue. Implementing a remote desktop software solution allows technicians to resolve user issues from where they are and deliver direct fixes. This reduces service expenses, user downtime, and demands on the IT staff. Faster resolution means better service, lower costs, and more satisfied customers.

9: Streamline software deployments

Evolving business needs and constantly changing technology makes it difficult and expensive to keep software and systems up-to-date and configured correctly. Organizations can reduce cost, risk, and labor typically associated with configuration changes by implementing a software solution that automatically distributes and installs application and operating system packages across the network.

10: Implement an ITAM solution that can grow with you

Finding the right solution for your organization's ITAM needs can be complicated and costly, and ultimately it may not be realistic to implement all of the above best practices at once. To avoid having to pay an exorbitant amount of money up front, organizations should look for a single, unified ITAM solution that provides a centralized view of multiple IT operations for your business and that can grow with the needs of the business, rather than combinations of segregated products that will create knowledge gaps and lack the ability to provide correlated information. An integrated solution will allow you to pick and choose the combinations of solutions that your organization needs now and add products down the line to keep up with the ever-changing needs of your business.

Umesh Shah is senior manager of product marketing for Numara Software. He has more than 15 years of IT and service management experience, including IT operations management, CRM, and Help Desk/Service Desk product management.