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Asset Management From Architecture, Lifecycle to Inventory and Systems

 


The management of assets crosses the boundaries between the business and technical functions of an organization. Technical systems management is all about the care and ongoing serviceability of technical assets, whilst the business is more interested with keeping track of the assets that it has and the procedures surrounding their lifetime. The functions of managing an asset throughout its entire life are mostly linked with business requirements - ordering, purchasing, delivery, contracts, warranties, financing and other aspects. 

However, a highly functional asset inventory is a useful by-product of any good quality systems management solution. Asset management tools have to bring these requirements together and bridge the gap between technical monitoring and financial management.

Asset management is concerned, for the most part, with IT assets but it should not be constrained that way. There is absolutely no reason why the asset database should not contain details of mobile phones, company cars and
even office furniture. All of these are subject to the same lifetime events, they have warranties, service patterns and can be moved from one location to another or from person to person easily and regularly. All that is required is a
mechanism for entering the data. 

The reason for the situation that exists is that IT systems that are able to automatically populate asset databases and these are often restricted to the networked environment within which they operate. Other information must come from other data sources such as human resource or financial systems but, often, non-IT assets must be entered manually.

Architecture

The key component of any asset management solution will be the database. This must be a central entity that is available to both the technical and business applications and it must be synchronized regularly with the sources that supply the data. Failure to synchronize creates inaccuracies which ultimately render the solution useless. This is an excellent example of where a directory or - even better - a meta-directory solution would be well suited.  

An asset database is usually well suited to a relational architecture - or even an object relational architecture. This is because there is a requirement for some flexibility in the database design to suit the individual needs of each business. 

Database customization is much easier with relational structures where additional fields and tables are easily added. The use of an object relational database would allow the additional flexibility of storing multimedia objects such as document images or sounds to support asset management functions.  

Once an asset database has been established, the most important task is to populate it. The location of the most accurate information will depend upon the business processes in use but, typically, a systems management environment will automatically discover networked devices, HR, Finance and ERP systems will have details of other assets, personnel, locations, suppliers and other key information. Remaining information concerning contracts and warranties will be paper-based.

The Asset Lifecycle

It follows that asset management tools must cover the entire asset lifecycle, from the moment that a manager decides that the organization needs something to the day that the organization decides it has no further use. The
first thing that the asset management tool must do is make sure that the asset that goes into the garbage on its last day is exactly the same as the one that came in at the beginning. This is especially important where a leasing
agreement exists. 

Assets change throughout their lives. They are upgraded and have extra functions added, so that the configuration can be quite different at the end of the lease from how it was at the beginning. Considerable sums
of money can be saved by removing those upgrades and extras and returning only the parts that were included in the original lease. So, there needs to be a workflow created that covers the application lifecycle.

The beginning is easy enough, involving the setting of requirements, identifying the appropriate budgets and getting approvals. It is useful for the software to be able to identify the most appropriate supplier - the one that can deliver most quickly or most cheaply, or provide good volume discounts - and then automatically generate the orders. 

In the same way, deliveries never arrive in the order that they are requested and hardly ever with the rest of the items. The acceptance of a delivery must be able to take the details and then assign them to an original order without necessarily fulfilling the order. Assignation to the appropriate individuals within the organization should follow.

The details of warranties, service contracts and purchase contracts need to be logged so that service desks are aware of maintenance issues. Costs and depreciation schemes are needed to help with the budgeting function. All
should be stored with the asset information as soon as the item has been delivered. 

Throughout the lifetime of the asset, changes to its configuration, location, ownership and anything else, should be tracked and noted in its history. The history is useful when trying to track down individual assets and can also be used to identify rogue devices that are constantly being serviced, or problem areas that keep occurring.

The processes of procurement are necessary to provide proper controls over assets. Much of the procurement process is made up of workflows that follow rules specific to the business.
 

Request and Approval

The very first workflow covers the first stage of procurement, namely the request and approval process. This provides all of the information relating to the initial purpose of the asset, the justification for its purchase and also
shows who made the request and who approved it. 

The asset management solution needs to gather all of the appropriate information and route the purchase request to directors according to the rules defined for the business. This ensures that no purchases can take place without approval and that the appropriate justification has been made.  

Placing an Order

This is a stage of the procurement process where asset management tools are able to add considerable value. If the asset database contains supplier details, it is possible to go through a process of receiving automatic
quotations. This can be achieved either by accessing the suppliers' own electronic quotation systems or by holding the basic price details in a local database. 

The supplier data can be used to identify those that have the best deals on offer, the likely delivery times or ability to source particular parts of the order. Once a quotation has been accepted and the appropriate suppliers identified, the order can be placed. At the same time, the costs can be
assigned to budgets.

Delivery Management

Receiving goods is an area that is rarely as easy as it should be. It is not uncommon for a single order to be received in multiple deliveries. It is also possible that an order may be sourced from multiple suppliers. In either
case, the asset management tools must be able to take delivery of multiple items per order and partial deliveries.

There are two approaches to this problem. The easiest is to have a simple list of outstanding components that are checked off as they are received. This may lead to some discussions around ownership if deliveries are not
received in the sequence that they were requested. The alternative is to allow partial deliveries and check them against orders. This is a more complicated process but does provide for better control over onward distribution.
 

As items are received and assigned to individuals or departments, the asset information must be entered into the database. The granularity of asset information is important here. Is a desktop system entered as a single unit or is it entered as a processor, monitor, network card and keyboard? The level of granularity depends upon the needs of the organization and should be balanced against the size of the database. 

Workflow rules may then forward a request to other departments to fill in details of contracts, warranties and other items. The assignation of assets to
individuals may not be completed until the time of installation. Once again, workflow rules should allow the control over this to be managed.

Finance and Contracts

Keeping track of the financial and contractual aspects of an asset purchase is, perhaps, a side issue for many organizations but keeping all of the details together can be useful. This is particularly so with service contracts and
maintenance agreements where links to help desks can speed up operator response times considerably.
 

The asset management solution needs to build a true TCO picture based upon the costs of consumables, maintenance, people, software and all other aspects of their life. Strong asset management tools will be able to
allocate portions of salary bills, service costs, stationary bills, upgrade costs and other items to the assets that use them. This information becomes useful when making decisions concerning disposal or when supplying information to auditors.

Contracts are, typically, difficult to manage. There are many different types of contract from insurance documents to maintenance and servicing deals. Most physical assets also come with some form of warranty and significant sums of money can be saved by using those warranties effectively and bringing in maintenance contracts only when the warranty expires. 

One of the features of contracts is that they often cover more than one asset. This then creates problems when keeping track of the assets that are to be returned at the end of a lease or will fall out of maintenance. Asset management tools should be able to track dates and issue reminders about significant contract events.

Change Management

Once the asset is in place, the asset management data must reflect the changing nature of its existence. The asset database needs to keep track of who is responsible for each item and where it is located. 

This information must then change every time the asset is assigned to another person or upgraded where, depending upon the granularity and grouping of asset records, all hardware and software additions and modifications need to be recorded. Once again, some workflow may be a useful addition to the solution so that these changes are enforced. 

Disposal 

The decision about whether or not to dispose of assets needs to be backed up by detailed information. How much has the asset cost throughout its lifetime? Has it been prone to failure? What is its current book value? The value of the asset history comes at this point. The links to service history, cost records and other details can all provide useful input into the disposal decision.  

Once a decision is made, it is important to check the original contracts and leases to understand the obligations of a business that is returning leased items or to identify usable components that can be removed before disposal. 

It should be possible to build a workflow around the disposal process so that all of the appropriate checks on financing and configuration are carried out as well as implementing recycling policies. 

Asset Inventory and Systems Management

Systems management environments benefit enormously from an ability to store and share data centrally. Asset data can be a part of that data sharing and can then provide support to other systems management functions. 

Discovery

The process of discovery is central to most network management environments. This can be coordinated with the asset management function to automatically create entries in the asset database for items that are discovered but not recorded. This discovery database forms the foundation for enterprise management as it defines the bounds of the managed environment. 

Software Distribution 

As more detail is added to the asset database, it becomes possible to use the information as a basis for selecting targets for management. One of the major users of this capability is the software distribution function. Software
distribution tools often need to check for particular software and hardware configurations before performing an installation or upgrade. The asset database is the best source of this information.
 

The tools will check the database to identify which systems need the upgrade. It will also check that they have sufficient hardware resources to support it. Once the installation has been carried out, the asset database needs to be updated to reflect the changes. The same processes can be used to manage hardware upgrades. 

It is important to realize that asset management is primarily a process, and that technology and the use of automated tools is not an end-all. Since every organization is unique, with its own needs and strategies, the ideal asset management process for each organization may differ.

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