Tracking Remote Assets
The corporate world has been talking about the benefits of “Working from Home” or “Remote Workers” for many years now. Despite the benefits, complacency seemed to outweigh the potential benefits, making this cultural shift more of a luxury. That all changed with Covid-19. Regardless of industry, all companies were now forced to abruptly consider remote work as a necessity and tasked with rolling out remote work policies in a matter of weeks.
This rushed transition to working from home put immense pressure on everyone, but particularly on IT Asset Managers. Having to come to grips with the new normal of most, or even all employees, taking assets offsite can be quite a challenge and organizing a remote asset management program in a few weeks just seemed impossible. It has become clear that quality asset management data has never been more important to not only track the value of assets but also their location and status.
The Measurable Value of Tracking Remote Assets and Accurate Data
2020 has proven to be a year of unprecedented disruption and change in working conditions the likes of which we have never seen and may never see again. The value of every last dollar to an organization has always been important but it has become even more critical now. To have highly valuable technology items not tracked and not being put to the utmost value is something companies can no longer afford.
The most important component of any asset management data is how up to date the data is and how to quickly and easily measure those assets that are at risk or potentially missing. This is where System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) can come in. With SCCM reporting back client data daily, there is no asset data source that is more up to date or accurate.
This data includes required asset-specific data such as:
- Serial Number
- Software installed
- And free hard disk space
This data allows us to know what assets we own, when they are due for renewal, how well they are operating and even if there are precious software licenses that can be re-assigned elsewhere in the organization to save on software spend.
However, there is other metadata returned and often ignored, that if leveraged can greatly assist Asset Managers. Listed below are a few examples of this kind of data and how it can be used effectively by Asset Managers to manage a fleet of machines in the remote work force.
1. User Device Affinity
User Device Affinity, or UDA, was introduced in SCCM 2012 as a way that allows SCCM admins to target a specific application deployment to a specific user and have it only install applications on their “Primary Machine.” This was a great idea, but it wasn’t taken up in great numbers due to the delay in the automatic assignment of primary machines to users and the difficult interface for manual assignment of machines.
When used not only for software deployment but also for asset management tracking, it can be a fantastic way to list who has what machine. When used with a simplified web interface, such as the Cireson Remote Support product, it is simple for asset admins and support analysts to assign primary machines to users quickly and easily, making the accuracy of the data even better.
In addition, without multiple people all logging in to a single machine in an office scenario, the data remains more stable over a longer period.
2. Last IP Address
One of the most standard data points that SCCM reports is the last IP address of the machine. This can be used by asset managers to determine the location of the asset due to subnet information. For example, a certain IP range will be assigned to the VPN IP Pool and therefore the information on the location of the item can then be updated from a specific location on premise and updated to a remote machine.
3. Last Inventory Date
Every time the SCCM client performs a hardware asset inventory cycle, that time and date is recorded and then reported to the SCCM database against that client. Historically, this was just a data point that the SCCM admins would use to track the health of the SCCM client and target this when deployments were not hitting target percentage rates.
However, this data can also be used to infer other information that is useful to asset administrators.
One of the key thing’s asset admins try to track is the loss, or potential loss, of hardware assets. Traditionally this has been done via an audit of people walking the floor with a list of machines. They are responsible for scanning barcodes and ticking spreadsheets that indicate whether an asset is where it’s supposed to be or not. Not only is this a real headache, it is time consuming and out of date the second it is completed.
Instead, knowing that the machine has successfully reported it’s hardware inventory back to the organization within a given time period (last week or last month for example) we can infer that the machine is still connected to our network and is still running our corporate OS with valid SCCM client credentials etc. Therefore, there is a very small chance that this machine is missing or in need of a physical audit. Conversely, if a machine has not successfully reported a hardware inventory for a month, then there is a good chance it is sitting in a bottom drawer, cupboard or has otherwise been rebuilt for a Minecraft machine for someone’s kid.
It is these machines that should be targeted for a physical audit thereby reducing the effort required and focusing it on those that are “at risk.”
4. Peripheral Components
The amount of data that is returned by the SCCM client can be overwhelming and seem like pointless data points for many people. However, it is also possible to extend these data points to report on other items that can be reported on via the client.
A great example here is monitors: All monitors that comply with the international industry standards called Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) can yield useful data. Your operating system uses this data to know what driver is needed, what resolution and refresh rate it should use and is kept in a consistent format, allowing us to be able to retrieve this data in a consistent way for asset management purposes.
It is a simple task to retrieve this data within each SCCM hardware inventory cycle and use this for tracking remote assets and monitoring. For in depth information on this process, check out this post on my personal blog.
Tracking Remote Assets Summary
So, for all you asset managers out there trying to come to grips with this new way of working, when it comes to tracking remote assets take a look at the data that your organization has been collecting for years in the form of SCCM hardware inventories. You just might find you have what you need to continue your tracking remote assets efforts even though your entire organization is now remote. You can also take this opportunity to better understand how this data can help you in the future, when employees are returning to the office.
If you’d like some help tracking remote assets or building out your asset management program using System Center Service and Configuration Manager, please don’t hesitate to contact the Cireson team.