A Kick-Start for ITAM
Practical Tips for Implementation
As an Asset Management consultant at Cireson, I see many different aspects of companies and how each approaches daily business and processes. For many of the companies that I work with, the start of any type of asset management program usually begins with a tool that has been purchased. Normally, this purchase occurred after some audit, when the service desk is fed up with not knowing what is where and who has it, or when upper management expects some report of data about your assets that does not exist.
Best practices in every presentation and class tell you that you should always start with processes before you worry about a tool to manage the processes and assets. I have never actually seen it happen in this order in any organization. Organizations either have a tool that does not work, processes that do not work, or both.
So, what happens when an organization actually sets aside resources to begin or fix their asset management program? The development of the processes and tool happens simultaneously. This article will focus on the processes, and data prep that needs to occur when implementing an asset management program.
One of the first questions I get asked is, “Are we the only ones just starting to manage our assets?” Well, if that was true, I would be out of a job. Organizations of every size; from small and medium, to enterprise and global companies, are starting to manage their assets. The size of your company is not important; it’s just a matter of starting. Obviously, upper management support is mandatory for a successful program, but if this is not coming from the top down, you may have to put on your marketing hat.
Regardless of when you define your processes, pre- or post- asset management tool, at the beginning of an ITAM program or while updating it, time needs to be dedicated to identifying and getting signoffs for those processes.
Pete Zerger, a Principal Program Manager at Cireson and nine-time Microsoft MVP told me:
Sometimes it helps to think about “foundational issues;” issues that unless resolved will make everything else more difficult or unachievable. I heard Bill Gates speak in person once, and when asked if the Gates foundation would bring personal computing to Africa, he responded with: “below a certain level of subsistence, computing does not matter,” and went on to describe how his foundation would focus on tackling foundational issues of hunger, disease, etc. and might never get around to personal computing in the 3rd world.
I think you have the same thing in the world of AM. An organization can decide “we need a normalized software catalog tomorrow,” and if they don’t have an [enterprise tool] to do the inventory of titles that can then be normalized, they have a foundational issue (or dependency, in IT terms) that will ensure the bigger picture effort will fail. In many years of IT operations I found that if a process did not address foundational issues, and provide a tool / interface appropriate to the user’s role and experience, we were headed toward failure.
When you are developing your processes, involve a majority of stakeholders and let them own a part of the development and provide feedback. The adoption rate and use of the product or process will skyrocket, because stakeholders have a stronger sense of ownership. They should not just be given some process built by another department and be expected to follow it. We see this happen all the time, and it does not work well. If you know of a certain tool you will be using, think about its capabilities because you will have to tweak the process a bit to allow it to help you. This is not a bad thing, as it should save you time and work by using it.
There are many types of processes within an ITAM program. Each of these processes can be achieved in different ways, since an organization may be spread across different cities, states, regions, or countries. Everyone says “I want to decide on one process and push that process to everyone in the company.” This is usually not possible due to different systems that are still going to be in place and may represent different legal or accounting requirements by country or state. Specific sites or organizations may need to define process exceptions, but make them the rule for that site. Ensure everyone knows of the process/procedure, and make sure there is change control in place in case those exceptions or any requirements have to be modified. There should be some centralized processes that everyone follows to ensure compliance and that organizational requirements are met. When you are first developing the processes, focus on the main ones that will span the entire company first, and then worry about the exceptions after.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done to develop all the processes of an organization’s ITAM program. This is one good reason to look into the IAITAM certification courses. You should select a few specific objectives that are most important and focus on those because, more than likely, management wants asset management up and running yesterday. At the same time, you are also consolidating your data and preparing to implement a new asset management tool.
Sometimes, the tool selection process involves the asset management stakeholders, but many times (unfortunately) it does not. Regardless, without proper preparation, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you just bring in the current data you have, the data may be just as bad as it currently is, just in a more central location. Yes, it is exciting when a new tool is in place (or at least I think so) that will centralize your assets and help automate some of the redundant tasks dealing with managing your assets. However, you must take a step back and analyze the current data you have before you jump in. Here are some steps that will ensure you are bringing in good data:
- The different types of data you will be importing (e.g. HW, SW, vendors, contracts, financial data)
- Which data source is the authoritative data source, as similar data may have multiple potential sources
- Where it currently is (e.g. network drives, local computers, external drives, other systems)
- Who has the data or who is responsible for the data
- What format the data is in (e.g. SharePoint lists, Excel or Word documents)
If there are data fields that no one maintains or uses, they probably do not need to be imported. When you sit down and formally create a list of where the data is and who has it, you may find data all over the place. Asset information and process may be living on personal work computers or be undocumented tribal knowledge.
- If all of the current data is accurate and provides value
- Who and how the data is going to be normalized
- Would it be better to start from scratch for some types of data
If there is data that is past a certain date that you do not need, then you can save time by not exporting it or cleaning it up. You don’t want to import data that is inaccurate or not required. The amount of asset management data that is collected over time is amazing. Until you export it all to a spreadsheet, you don’t realize how many fields have random data in them.
Normalize and clean up data by:
- Gathering all documents/files and removing access to original files or make them read-only
- Ensuring all fields display the only type of data that relates to that field
- Creating naming conventions to ensure that there are not multiple names for the same value
- Creating a temporary location for changes/additions to be made while cleaning up the current data
This step will probably take the most time, but organizations never seem to designate time for this process. During this cleanup, you will see data that is never used, very inaccurate, and redundant. Many times, we hear, “Ohh, that data was entered by a guy who left years ago, but we don’t use it.” The old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” will hold true here; this is the best opportunity the company will have to ensure the data is clean, accurate, and provides value.
Validate data by:
- Having all groups that own the data verify it was cleaned up and normalized properly
- Getting a signoff before you import it into your new AM tool
More than likely, a simple email to ask people to make sure the data is correct is not going to work. You will need to set up meetings to have everyone walk through the data and sign off on what is ready to be imported into your new tool.
Ok, now you are actually ready to start looking at your new AM tool and deciding what fields map over to your new tool. All too often these steps are skipped; either partially or entirely. Now, your team will feel confident in the information you are starting with. In some cases, you will determine that starting from scratch with some data is more beneficial. But don’t forget, the management of your assets and data is a continuous process that no tool is going to automatically do for you.
This article touches on just a few aspects of starting an asset management program. Some organizations I have worked with do not fully understand the amount of work and resources that are required to start such an undertaking. Whether you are part of a large team or a service desk person that has been assigned the “small” task of managing your assets, you need to start now. The training provided by the IAITAM certifications will help you show your company that there is value in investing time and resources into these tasks. Hopefully, you will be able to show what you have done and get more support. If the push for asset management is coming from the bottom, the key is to get a champion or stakeholder that is as high up in the food chain as possible to understand and support your cause. Whether you are just getting started or starting over, I hope you found some of the tips in this article helpful. Good Luck!