As IT organizations diversify, Asset Managers must broaden their focus.
It’s a great opportunity to build influence, but those who ignore the change risk their role becoming less relevant.
For many years, though, ITSM and ITAM sat rather awkwardly together. The first two versions of ITIL paid little attention to ITAM: Their heavy focus on the CMDB was relevant and important, but much of the role of the operational IT Asset Manager was essentially excluded.
Many organizations evolved two completely different streams of activity: an ITSM discipline, configuation-minded, governed by Change Management, and an ITAM function, logistically and financially focused.
To some extent, the two were often involved at different phases of the equipment lifecycle: Asset Management handled the procurement, received the arriving goods, provisioned them, and delivered them to the ITSM function, who took control of their active life. After a few years, it arrived back in the hands of Asset Management for redeployment or disposal.
This is a scenario which The ITAM Review’s 2011 Survey showed to be very common: In over half of responding organizations, ITAM was completely separate from the broader IT Service Management discipline.
In a modern IT organization, this disparity isn’t sustainable. Corporate IT is changing hugely and rapidly. The IT function has evolved from a monopolistic sole-provider of technology, into a more flexible “broker of services”, typically managing a portfolio of internal resources and external suppliers. Having previously been the only option available to its customers, IT can now easily be bypassed altogether by anyone with a company credit card and an Amazon web services account.
The change is happening both in the datacenter and the frontline. Datacenter technology has shifted dramatically, through virtualization to cloud. IT’s customers now spend more on their personal IT equipment than their companies spend equipping them, which inevitably changes expectations and brings consumer equipment into all but the most rigid of workplaces.
And what of ITIL? It has, at last, begun to catch up. It hasn’t done so from the bottom-up: Asset Management operations are still not its concern. But there has been, in American Football terms, something of an “end-around“. Version 2 of ITIL modelled Assets in a highly simplistic way, regarding them in simple financial terms as “things that are owned”. With version 3 arrived a much, much broader definition – The “Service Asset”:
- “Service Asset”: any Capability or Resource of a Service Provider.
- “Capability”: The ability of an Organization, person, Process, Application, Configuration Item or IT Service to carry out an Activity. Capabilities are intangible Assets of an Organization.”
- “Resource”: A generic term that includes IT Infrastructure, people, money or anything else that might help to deliver an IT Service. Resources are considered to be Assets of an Organization
This change substantially increases the significance of Asset Management within the framework. Effectively, ITIL is telling us: “You are not just a custodian of spreadsheets. You are responsible for managing all of the building blocks of your IT service organization!”. It’s a big change, and it needs a well planned and considered response. If this is done well, it gives IT Asset Managers the opportunity to establish themselves as highly important contributors to the IT organization.
These six steps are a solid way to approach this challenge:
Understand your CIO’s objectives and business plan
No CIO is ever handed a bigger pot of money at the start of a year and told to “do the same as you’ve been doing”. Each IT organization is typically being asked to demonstrate real and increasing value to the business. IT’s role as a monopoly supplier is long-gone, now that anybody can provision services, applications or infrastructure with a company credit card. Budgets may be being cut, or deliverables increased. With – typically – 60% of IT’s budget spent with suppliers, the department’s challenges are hughly relevant to the Asset Manager. Hopefully, your CIO has already done a good job of communciating these to the business. If they haven’t, you may have to go asking.
Keep abreast of trends and technologies
While an Asset Manager is not expected to be an expert in multiple technical disciplines, a broad and well-informed knowledge of the trends emerging in the industry is invaluable. Executive-focused websites such as CIO.com provide a great overview of the technologies and services being pitched to IT executives. Analysts often provide valuable insight too, in articles such as Gartner’s 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2013. Today’s emergent technology will be the basis of tomorrow’s massive disruption within IT departments. This will drive where IT spends its money, and hence the nature of those Capabilities and Resources that make up its Service Assets.
The IT Asset Manager is in a position which allows them to place themselves at the centre of an internal social-network, working with specialist teams to understand the technology and services which they depend on. This provides a pretty unique insight within the department, with a high-level view across different technologies, at different stages of the lifecycle. One very important task should be to establish an strong and clearly-defined relationship with the IT Configuration Manager: The roles remain distinct, but effective work in the somewhat grey area between the two disciplines can create real value.
Find creative alternatives and options
A medical research charity I spoke with last year had cleverly extended the life of some storage hardware. In this specialist sector, storage requirements are ever growing, and frontline equipment typically has a lifecycle of no more than three years. However, rather than disposing of the retired equipment, the charity was able to repurpose it for less-critical storage such as PC backups. With premium vendor support no longer required, some clever research identified a much cheaper third-party option. The result? An expensive purchase of new backup storage hardware was completely avoided. This is the IT Asset Manager’s broad insight at work, enabling technology to be repurposed, suppliers to be aligned, and money to be saved.
Spot compliance risks, and provide early warning
All too often, technology decisions are made in a degree of isolation, without consideration to their wider impact. There are few areas where this is more apparent, and damaging, than in the area of compliance. As an Asset Management practitioner, on more than one occasion, I was called into an organization where significant datacenter or desktop virtualization had already taken place with no consideration of software license terms. In one example, a simple failure to read the licensing terms on a single product had increased the company’s exposure from the 50 licenses to thousands (specifically, every thin-client desktop in their entire organization). Often, vendor licenses are very poorly defined in terms of new technology (I blogged about this lag effect here:http://evolvingitsm.wordpress.
Use all of this knowledge to become a trusted decision influencer.
By following the above steps, the IT Asset Manager can become a highly valuable source of information and decision support to the CIO and their financial controller, providing a unique insight into internal opportunities, external options, supplier performance, compliance questions, and much more. With the rapid marginalization of the “traditional” technologies that previously provided the bulk of our managed IT assets, is there any alternative?
About Jon Hall
Jon has worked in the IT Service Management sphere for almost two decades, as a practitioner, consultant, and product manager, and currently leads product management at BMC Software for IT Asset Management and ITSM Mobility. His areas of focus include the transforming nature of business IT, consumerization of IT services, the evolving role of the IT Asset Manager, and the increasing complexity of Software Asset Management.