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What is IT asset management (ITAM)?

IT asset management (also known as ITAM) is the process of ensuring an organization’s assets are accounted for, deployed, maintained, upgraded, and disposed of when the time comes. Put simply, it’s making sure that the valuable items, tangible and intangible, in your organization are tracked and being used.  

So, what’s an IT asset? Defined simply, an IT asset includes hardware, software systems, or information an organization values. In Atlassian’s IT department, some of our most important assets are the computers and software licenses that help us build, sell, and support our software and the servers we host it on. 

IT assets have a finite period of use. To maximize the value an organization can generate from them, the IT asset lifecycle can be proactively managed. Each organization may define unique stages of that lifecycle, but they generally include planning, procurement, deployment, maintenance, and retirement.   An important part of IT asset management is applying process across all lifecycle stages to understand the total cost of ownership and optimize the use of assets.

In the past, IT departments were able to control assets within their own domain. Now, an organization’s asset management practice extends far beyond the hardware that’s issued with an official IT stamp of approval.  Subscription-based software and employees expectation to customize the tools they work with through marketplaces and app stores, present new asset management challenges. The way modern teams work requires that IT teams be flexible and adapt their asset management process to best enable the business. 

As various teams push to work with the tools that best fit their needs, asset management is an even more important part of an organization’s overall strategy and provides up-to-date information to reduce risks and costs. An asset management process creates a single source of truth when optimizing budgets, supporting lifecycle management, and making decisions that impact the entire organization. 

As teams outside of IT begin to embrace service management, asset management has also become important to a variety of departments. We’ve heard of organizations using asset management software to manage things ranging from fleets, to fish, to insurance, to musical instruments. 

Why is IT Asset Management important?

Providing a single source of truth

Too often, assets get tracked in a ton of different places, by a ton of different people.  No single person owns things, and no single tool collects and centralizes the information. Naturally, chaos and inaccuracy follow. It’s difficult to make informed decisions.  There are even companies where people are being employed just to keep track of IT assets. Systems should do this work. Without having to relegate time and brain matter to tracking artifacts, monitoring usage, and understanding dependencies, IT employees can focus more on what matters most to the organization.  Asset management brings order, and offers a single source of truth for IT teams, management, and ultimately, entire organizations.

Improving utilization and eliminating waste

Asset management keeps information updated, so teams eliminate waste and improve utilization. It saves money by helping avoid unnecessary purchases and cutting licensing and support costs. Increased control also enforces compliance with security and legal policies and reduces risks. The positive implications on costs and productivity benefit the entire organization.

Enabling productivity without compromising reliability

With digital transformation changing the way organizations operate, modern asset management goes far beyond tracking laptops and mice. Teams are embracing DevOps and SRE principles, and need asset management processes and tools in order to efficiently deliver new functionality and services quickly without compromising on reliability. In the report Prepare Your IT Asset Management for 2020, Gartner notes that given the increased reliance on platform and infrastructure services, effective asset management can enable organizations to manage their consumption of “on-demand services.” With increased control, visibility, and assigned responsibility, teams can reduce excess consumption including overprovisioning, and idle instances, avoiding unnecessary costs. 

Supporting ITSM practices and enabling teams across organizations

IT asset management is critical to supporting ITIL processes, including change, incident, and problem management. The IT team enables the entire organization to get more innovative and deliver value more quickly. With the right data at their fingertips, teams can move with speed and predict the impact of changes before they happen. By democratizing access to insights, the organization gains a competitive edge, delivering value more quickly.  Any organization trying to keep up with the pace of modern innovation needs to get strategic about controlling, tracking, and mastering IT data.

How to choose IT asset management software

Why you need asset management software

As you begin to consider different asset management software vendors, start with assessing why you need to improve your approach to asset management. Here are some of the common signs that show you’re ready for asset management software:

You want to save money

As reliance on software, infrastructure, and platform services continues to increase, one of the keys to cutting costs is optimizing spending on these services. According to Gartner research, “many organizations can cut spending on software by as much as 30 percent” using best practices to optimize software licenses.  This isn’t an easy task to complete manually. Gartner writes “Optimizing complex licenses manually is labor-intensive; it requires specialized knowledge and does not scale. Larger enterprises will need a SAM (Software Asset Management) tool. A SAM tool can automate, accelerate and improve manual processes. It can pay dividends over manual alternatives, and can often pay for itself.”

You’re relying on spreadsheets

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. They quickly become inaccurate or unwieldy. 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.

It’s difficult to keep up with the pace of change in your company

Five new headsets arrived today. Four employees had their laptops stolen at a restaurant 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.

“Shadow IT” is a growing concern

More and more often, applications, licenses, and other IT assets are being purchased, managed, and used in “the shadows,” without the knowledge of  the central IT team. Software that makes collaboration easier can keep IT in the loop, enabling other teams to be more productive, and avoiding risk and unnecessary costs. 

Once you know the time is right, thinking through what implementing a new approach to asset management will look like for your organization will help further clarify which software will best support your needs. In our experience, taking an asset inventory is the first step to get a better understanding of what is where and your costs. From there, it’s possible to map asset lifecycles and evaluate costs alongside your finance department.  

More advanced IT asset management goes beyond this step and automates routine asset management tasks. For instance, an employee can use a self-service portal to request a license to a common software subscription. Using pre-existing rules, that request can be approved with a link sent to provide access to the subscription to the requester. This reduces the amount of effort IT teams expend on support tasks, so they can focus on higher level work. 

Collaboration is also an important part of effective asset management. Instead of purchases happening in the shadows, a collaborative tool makes it easy for employees to make requests, and for other teams like procurement to comment on and approve purchases. And, if you can connect your asset management tool to services employees already use, even better. For instance, link to Slack, so an employee can make a request in a few taps on their keyboard. Improving the intake process for asset requests goes far in improving the IT team’s visibility. 

It’s worth noting that a service desk is an important foundation for this. It offers an easy way for employees to ask for help, plus it gives IT staff the ability to organize and provide reporting on requests. A service desk linked to asset management software, gives IT teams important context to deliver better service. For example, when a user requests a laptop repair, certain basic information is automatically available: including purchase date, previous issues, etc. The IT team can also access any tickets linked to that laptop. This quick and complete context means faster resolution of customer issues.

As IT continues to evolve, reliance shifts increasingly to SaaS vendors for critical services, and it’s necessary to track changes in increasingly dynamic cloud environments, asset management is adapting. It’s important that you choose the tools that can best enable collaboration and support your service management practice. 

Every organization is different. Maybe you need to map complicated dependencies across an enterprise. You might want to keep record of intangible assets like licenses and compliance documents to reduce risk. Perhaps your requirements are simpler and involve tracking an inventory of computers. 

Fortunately, asset management software comes in all flavors, from nimble and affordable integrations, to complex, high-dollar solutions that can automatically discover all IP-based hardware on the network, wash the dishes piled up in your office's kitchen sink, and more. Whether you go with a lightweight tracker or an enterprise level system, the most important consideration is finding the option that will work best for your unique use case.