This isn’t an article about hedge fund managers that drive Bentley’s and drink $4900 glasses of wine. Those are financial asset managers, and we congratulate them. (Wouldn’t turn down a quick ride to the Hamptons on their Gulfstream, either.)
In IT, asset management is simply about making sure that all the valuable items your company buys are both accounted for and being used. Basically, if your company owns or leases it, you need to know where it is and whether it is being used, and make sure it is maintained properly.
Assets can be anything. At British Airways, airplanes are assets. At Jamba Juice, blenders. At Atlassian, in our IT department, some of our most important assets are the computers and monitors and projectors that help us build, sell, and support our software and the servers we host it on.
Asset management software comes in all flavors, from very nimble and affordable solutions to insanely complex and high-dollar solutions from legacy IT software vendors that can automatically discover all IP-based hardware on the network, wash the dishes piled up in your office's kitchen sink, and more.
So why use IT asset management software? Won’t a spreadsheet work?
Running a one-person development shop? If you just have one laptop, printer, and cell phone, you don't need asset management yet. A simple Confluence page will work just fine. But as you add employees and devices, the benefits of a proper assent management system quickly pay off.
Asset management tools are designed to alleviate the most common pains of day-to-day inventory tracking for rapidly-growing or well-established organizations with significant asset inventory and activity. While there are numerous, more complex challenges (like corporate governance, calculating depreciation, and even contract management and software license compliance), the most common signs that you need at least basic asset management include:
- You're using spreadsheets–and they’ve become inaccurate or unwieldy: Spreadsheets are still one of the most the most common ways that companies start tracking what they own. Think they stay accurate very long? No way. In fact, Sage Accounting found that a $2 million company using spreadsheets to track their assets could be spending as much as $50,000 a year on “ghost assets,” or items that they are paying and accounting for in their general ledger but that are physically missing. Yikes.
- You can't keep up with the pace of change in your company: Five new headsets arrived today. Four employees had their laptops stolen at a steakhouse in Tuscaloosa. Next month, ten printers are getting switched out with new models from the leasing company, and the month after that, 14 laptops. If you need an employee - even part time - to keep track of everything, you need a basic system to make the job easier.
- There’s no single source of truth across the organization: Assets often get tracked in a ton of different places, by a ton of different people. No single person often owns it, and no single tool collects and centralizes the information. Naturally, chaos and inaccuracy ensue.
At Atlassian, we’ve encountered these exact challenges in our own business. We grew far faster than we ever imagined, and to support that growth, we bought a lot of hardware and software. At some point, we realized we needed to keep track of everything we had purchased, and that our own spreadsheets and hodgepodge processes weren’t going to cut it.
So we did what every scrappy software development house named Atlassian would do: we figured out a brilliant way to use JIRA, our very own issue tracker, to handle asset management.
Building an enterprise-grade asset management system on pennies a day
Our first crack at IT asset management was a project targeting three geos: our main office in Sydney, and two satelite offices in San Francisco and Amsterdam. In total, the offices accounted for 700 employees and well over 2500 computer assets.
We probably should have budgeted $50-100k to buy all the software and supporting materials (like asset tags, printers, scanners, etc.) that most companies would need to take on a project of this size. But we love challenges, so we turned this into one. Could we create something better for a fraction of the price? We settled on a $5,000 budget, and went to work.
Pete, our IT manager, had a revelation. We already had all of our users in JIRA. If we could just find a way to assign assets to users in JIRA, we’d be set. Obviously, we would want some other features like the ability to print and attach asset tags to every computer for identification purposes.
So that’s exactly what we built: a lightweight, fast, and easy to use workflow for managing IT assets using JIRA. We’re still using it today, and we encourage you to use it, too.
I won’t go too far into how it works, because Dan Radigan already wrote an amazing Ebook on how to use JIRA for asset management, from setting up your inventory and building workflows to configuring reports and helpful hints around physical implementation.
But here's a great list of just a few of the things you can do with it:
- Assign and tag every item with a unique ID number: At Atlassian, each tag has a QR code that we can scan that takes us straight to the details of the asset. It’s extremely powerful. You can scan an asset tag, stick it on a computer, enter a few key specifications like make, model, processor speed and drive size, and select the user it is assigned to.
- Keep track of the status and location of every asset: Is it in use, being repaired offsite by a third party, or has it been stolen? We need to know if these items are on campus, at home offices, or out of commission for repair. We designed our JIRA asset management functionality to account for just about every status imaginable.
- Keep track of the asset details and value, too: Using JIRA for asset management means we can answer the questions today that we couldn’t just a few years ago. How many of our computers are laptops? What processor speeds are they running, and how much RAM? What are they worth? How many computers still have HDMI ports vs. USB 3 or Thunderbolt, so we can buy the right overhead projectors? How many antivirus licenses do we actually need? We can find out in an instant, because we’re tracking it with JIRA.
- Run powerful reports: What assets are awaiting disposal or were recently disposed? What assets are away for repair, and how long have they been there? The simplicity of JIRA queries means you can easily generate just about any report you ever need–right down to the brands, models, and specs of the machines in stock, how old they are, and more.
- Build great dashboards to monitor the metrics that matter to you: We set up a really neat one that shows us the percentage of computers that are in service versus those that are in stock, how many are obsolete, and how many are awaiting lease return or recycling? Again, the possibilities are endless here.
- Provide better IT service: Today, when a person calls in with a problem with their machine, IT already knows everything we need to about their machine–from when it was bought to when memory was added, when the OS was upgraded, and when it was last serviced. IT staff love it, because they can work faster. And we love it because our stuff gets fixed quicker, without wasting tons of time reading serial numbers and tech specs to our IT team over the phone.
The list of features and benefits truly goes on and on, but here’s the jest of it. If you have 15 or more contingent workers that you supply with hardware (computers, printers, phones, tablets, etc), you definitely stand to benefit from asset management. If you're already using JIRA or JIRA Service Desk, it makes sense to look into taking advantage of our lightweight, very easy to use Asset Management abilities, just like we are doing at Atlassian. To learn more, read our ebook on asset management and check out JIRA Service Desk.