Asset Management: Taking Stock, From Start to Finish

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-02-28

Asset Management: Taking Stock, From Start to Finish
Tracking hardware and software assets is no easy task. Add software deployment and help-desk automation, and the challenge grows. Asset management software can do it all-and more. 5 Tips for Asset Management Planning
Experts offer advice for keeping tabs on the software tools that keep tabs on all your tools.

Vendor Profiles

Altiris: the Complete Package
Customers praise the software vendor for its broad offerings. Novell: Ramping Up
A 2005 acquisition may give novell a boost in the asset market. BMC Software: Building Remedy
Customers like BMC's focus on business process.

Next page: Taking Stock, From Start to Finish

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Taking Stock, From Start to Finish

To most, "asset management" evokes the images of commercials portraying the bespectacled money manager as part of the family, or the middle-aged couple asking, "Have we saved enough?"

For technology managers, asset management is more about the here and now.

There's no slick investment manager involved, but there is a wealth of software tools that keep tabs on everything from servers to smart phones, from their first day on the job until their retirement.

In a September 2006 report, Forrester Research pointed out that while technology departments focused on building systems to help business units prosper, they had limited options to run more efficiently. Enter asset management software.

At their optimum, these programs can oversee inventory concerns, like how many computers or software licenses a company has; contracts, including service-level and maintenance agreements; and financials, such as depreciation estimates and charge-backs.

Managing its technological portfolio from procurement to disposal helps an organization in a number of ways, from cutting down on the time help-desk technicians spend on installing software, to avoiding fees and penalties—or even litigation—from exceeding their licensing agreements.

The ability to manage "from cradle to grave" drew Lori Sorenson to invest in asset management software. In 2000, she oversaw the creation of the Illinois Century Network, a telecommunications backbone linking the state's educational institutions, municipalities, hospitals, nonprofits and other organizations.

According to Sorenson, systems inventories and other records on those "member" organizations were kept in a homegrown database. Over the next few years, as the network grew, Sorenson and her team looked for software to track and report on their physical assets, costs and depreciation, to replace the project's system of spreadsheets and databases.

She also needed a system to connect members to the network's help desk. "We needed it all," says Sorenson, now a chief operating officer with the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, which administers the state's technology and telecommunications.

She had heard positive reviews of tools from Remedy, then an independent asset management software maker (now owned by BMC Software). Remedy eventually became the only firm to formally bid for the project. Sorenson says Remedy's pre-built reports, along with its help-desk and customer relationship modules, were the combination they were looking for.

Before deploying the software, she says it took about a month to tabulate asset depreciations. Her team created a script with Remedy that generates those same figures on demand.

And now it takes less time to bring new state departments and agencies online. When they were still using spreadsheets and the in-house database, processing requests and sending out quotes for provisioning and connecting to the network could take up to two weeks.

With all the information housed in Remedy, Sorenson says her team could complete those tasks in two days.

Soon after being picked for the project, Remedy was bought by Peregrine Systems. That firm filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002 and sold Remedy to BMC. (Peregrine itself was bought in 2005 by Hewlett-Packard and rolled into its OpenView product line.)

Appreciating Assets

Gartner projects the worldwide market for asset management tools to reach $358.9 million once the 2006 figures are tabulated; the firm expects that number to jump 17% this year to $418.7 million and another 15% in 2008 to $480.7 million. CA, Hewlett-Packard, BMC and Altiris rank among the biggest players in the asset management arena.

Another emerging player is Novell, which acquired asset management vendor Tally Systems in 2005 to boost its existing configuration management software suite, ZENWorks. Last year, Brad Myrvold, desktop technology manager with Allina Hospitals and Clinics, a Minneapolis health-care network, installed the ZENWorks Asset Management application to manage hardware and software leases.

Novell plans to incorporate the Tally tools into the ZENWorks platform later this year. Myrvold says he's looking forward to seeing the results. And if they're anything like the ones he's seen from more than five years of using ZENWorks, he's sure to be pleased.

At first, Myrvold used ZENWorks for data migration and software deployment. Allina had been using other Novell products, like the NetWare operating system, but Myrvold says he didn't know much about ZENWorks. "At the time, ZEN didn't have much market share or public awareness," he says.

But ZENWorks delivered for him on two software deployments. In 2002, he and his team deployed 650 applications to 6,800 computers and devices using ZENWorks. And they saw an immediate result: Calls to the help desk for repairs dropped by half, from 20,000 to 10,000, in a month.

The next year, Allina migrated 13,500 computers from the Microsoft Windows NT platform to Windows XP. Again, Myrvold and his team saw help-desk calls drop, this time by 40%, he says, though he didn't specify the number of calls.

Police Scanner

Besides the benefits that asset management software offers, users say they employ the tools to help avoid the risk of violating license agreements. According to the Business Software Alliance, a trade association that polices software piracy, software misuse leads to about $7 billion in lost vendor revenue annually.

Neil MacBride, the group's vice president of legal affairs, acknowledges that not every licensing violation is intentional. But, deliberate or not, fines can mount up to tens of thousands of dollars, he says.

One of the primary tips the alliance gives to companies is to constantly audit themselves. "The best way for a company to stay in compliance or out of trouble or off our radar and our vendors' radars," he says, "is to keep looking at themselves."

Many software vendors require their customers to perform yearly audits of how many licenses the company has versus how many they're using.

That's where asset management software comes in. Harry Butler, support center manager with defense contractor EFW, uses CA's Unicenter Asset Management software to manage software usage and contracts. Not only must EFW comply with vendors, but it also has to meet requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Noncompliance on either front can result in the loss of millions in government contracts.

While Butler says EFW hasn't been audited by a vendor or the Business Software Alliance, he recognizes the threat. "That's why we put in the CA products—so we weren't going to get ourselves in that boat," he says. "It keeps me from being illegal."