Oct 05 2010

For the Record

Asset management tools help the federal government make the most of its IT investments.

Economics drive organizations to use technology in inventive ways to increase operating efficiencies and reduce expenses. Although there are many obvious benefits to deploying systems that automate processes and improve collaboration, the immediate result often is a complex and unwieldy IT environment. Even small federal agencies can be overwhelmed by the diversity of their hardware and software resources.

To take control of these assets and manage them throughout their lifecycle, organizations of all types and sizes are ramping up their investment in IT asset management (ITAM) solutions.

Government agencies traditionally have relied on ITAM primarily to track hardware inventory and monitor licensing agreements. But many systems support every phase of the lifecycle — from planning and procurement through deployment and maintenance (including license management, usage monitoring, software distribution and automated patch management) and finally, end-of-life retirement. Some even offer financial management capabilities that simplify procurement, regulatory compliance and vendor contract negotiation activities. 

“Asset lifecycle management has really taken over,” confirms Lisa Erickson-Harris, research director at Enterprise Management Associates. Today, she says, organizations are looking for more from their ITAM products than just inventory management, instead seeking out solutions that can consolidate all monitoring and management functions throughout an IT asset’s lifecycle.

Taking the Lead

Cost concerns propel many federal government agencies to explore ITAM solutions. Without them, Erickson-Harris says, assets are managed in departmental silos, compromising their overall usefulness to the larger organization. Only by managing these resources more holistically can agencies take full advantage of what they have.

This is easier said than done, of course, given the size and sheer complexity of many federal agency IT environments. According to the Office of Management and Budget, federal agencies are projected to spend roughly $81.9 billion on new technology in fiscal year 2010–2011.

In an effort to help federal IT managers make better choices when procuring and managing new hardware and software, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which uses CA solutions to manage its digital assets, launched the Federal IT Asset Management Program in 2007. FedITAM, as it’s more commonly known, offers agencies a framework for managing the six key process areas of IT asset management: financial and capital planning, approving hardware and software, managing the buy, managing contract compliance, monitoring inventory usage, and complying with policies and standards.

In addition to working with standards bodies and neutral organizations such as TagVault.org on standards development, FedITAM publicizes best practices, policy information and data about different IT asset management capability models provided by various manufacturers.

Effective IT asset management practices can drive down total cost of ownership for IT resources by 15% or more. The biggest reductions come from procurement (160%), disposal (60%) and operations (44%).

SOURCE: Gartner

The goal, according to program manager Alan VanderMallie, is to foster a culture in which IT assets are managed strategically, rather than as an afterthought. “Do [agency] CIOs have personnel, policies and procedures to optimize assets?” he asks. “Do they know who’s using them?” These are the types of questions VanderMallie wants federal IT managers to think about.

Heeding the Buzz

VanderMallie’s efforts to raise awareness within the federal government are paying off. Many agencies and departments are taking a more strategic approach to ITAM, including the U.S. Marine Corps.

One Marine Corps training program that supports six different sites is using Wasp MobileAsset tracking software to keep tabs on millions of dollars’ worth of IT equipment. According to contractor Dennis Ingram, who is tasked with supporting the program, MobileAsset saves the support team countless hours in manual entry time, improving accuracy and freeing resources for other administrative functions.  

Wasp also allows the IT team to group together related assets, such as keyboards and monitors, rather than tracking them individually. “This helps us manage our assets in a way that fits in with our operating model,” Ingram explains. And that means monitoring assets based on their functional purpose (rather than as disconnected components) throughout their life spans.