Feb 25 2010

IT Asset Management for a Distributed Age

Agencies institute best practices for effective software and hardware lifecycle management in rapidly evolving and virtualized IT environments.

Never before have agencies been responsible for managing so many moving parts in so many locations. Expansion in the use of mobile devices, software applications, networking gear and other technologies that facilitate geographically distributed and often highly virtualized operations have added to the number of resources and the complexity of the environments agency IT staff support.

At the same time, constrained budgets demand that IT departments be highly efficient in the way they administer these technology resources throughout their entire lifecycles. This puts the onus on federal technology staffs to implement highly effective asset management practices — even as the agencies they support undergo dramatic change in how they interact with their constituents. 

The Government Printing Office is a prime example of how technology has altered the 148-year-old department’s very output. In the last five years, the organization has re-engineered its processes to support the more cost-effective and easier-to-search digital publication of the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, which were formerly available only in paper form. This transition to electronic publishing introduced new resources to the IT support list, without necessarily reducing the number of technology assets that fall under its purview.

“The electronic age is upon us,” says Michael Wash, CIO for the GPO. “Our job is to make sure we manage these digital assets as well as well as we do physical resources.” 

Wash points out that even as GPO uses electronic tools to compose, publish and maintain its documents in its online digital library, the agency continues to product some documents in paper form and thus still manages many legacy devices. Sweeping changes in the use of technology like the ones made by the GPO require federal IT to accurately track, correlate and share resource information. 

“Particularly in today’s more distributed environments, it is really crucial to have coordinated standardized asset management,” says Richard Ptak, Managing Partner at Ptak, Noel & Associates.  Ptak adds one key component of this is having a shared database to store all hardware and software resource data to support all aspects of asset management, including inventory management, compliance and effective management of technology throughout the entire lifecycle. 

In Practice

IT hardware and software maintenance expenses, including support services costs, account for between 40% and 60% of the total IT operations budget.

SOURCE: Gartner

Although software and hardware makers continue to introduce innovations such as radio-frequency identification tag readers to support automation and accuracy in IT inventory management, effective asset management really comes down to good practices.

The Small Business Administration is typical of many agencies in that as a distributed organization with more than 120 offices and thousands of end users to support, the agency needs to have a good handle on its IT inventory. Some of SBA’s biggest challenges are with discovering new configuration data and keeping all inventory data current to properly maintain resources and effectively manage new acquisitions, says Paul Christy, chief technology office for SBA. 

The agency recognized that practices were just as important if not more crucial than the kind of asset management tools it uses. SBA adopted the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework’s best practices to align the IT organization’s activities with the agency’s overarching goals. 

Christy says ITIL puts the organization on the path to reduce costs overall by promoting practices such as the establishment of a configuration management database, which uses common definitions to ensure the accuracy of technology resource information.

Christy acknowledges that instituting ITIL is not easy: there is no product suite available for purchase called ITIL. But by simplifying asset management data that is required to configure and maintain all IT resources, he says ITIL is serving as an invaluable guideline for ensuring that the agency has all aspects of asset management under control.

“You have to keep things simple,” Christy says, “Or suddenly you will have too big of a job.”