Enterprises drill down to manage IT assets

TORONTO — When Anna Kennedy joined Canada Life Assurance Co. in 1997 she was given an office and a desk, but her job description was still under construction.

“”They said, ‘We’re not sure exactly what you’re going to do,

but it’s going to be something to do with IT asset management,”” she said.

Almost five years later, Kennedy described her role as providing “”glasses”” to the company’s CIO as technology spending is determined and IT projects are planned.

Speaking at the IT Asset Management Conference and Product Showcase Wednesday, Kennedy, Canada Life’s manager of the IT financial management team, provided a case study of how Canadian organizations are keeping track of their hardware and software, along with the costs to maintain them. Representatives from Dofasco and Enbridge also spoke at the one-day event.

In a business climate governed by strict budget controls and return on investment, the discipline of IT asset management has flourished, said Sherry Irwin, president of Technology Asset Management Inc. and the conference’s organizer. Irwin once worked with research firm Gartner Inc., and she said she had seen first-hand how attitudes have changed. At one of Gartner’s regional user briefings in 1988, for example, Irwin recalled how she had asked clients if they were concerned about the evolving software licensing models from major vendors. “”I got blank stares,”” she said. “”Nobody understood what was happening.””

They do now. Last year IT asset management came to the forefront as Microsoft overhauled its licensing practices under a program called Software Assurance. In some cases, this model requires a more frequent two-year upgrade cycle, which drew ire from some IT managers and resellers. But software is only one element. Irwin defines IT assets as any purchased, leased or licensed hardware and software and related services. IT asset management, she said, means developing policies, processes and technologies and an organizing structure to get the maximum benefit from IT investments at a minimal cost. “”You have to know what you have before you can manage it,”” she said.

For companies like Canada Life, which is trying to become more of a global operation, this poses an enormous challenge. Kennedy said it took two months to provide her bosses with a report on combined IT spending across the organization by business function. Working with a staff of six, Kennedy was sending out a pair of people to each jurisdiction who spent several days questioning local employees.

Through a combination of Intria’s Argis database product and Tangram Eneterprise Solution’s Asset Insight software, Kennedy said her team now provides highly detailed asset tracking for all IT expenditures. Server data, for example, would include not only the machine’s name but the start and termination dates of its purchase or lease costs, interim rent or lease payments, reference numbers for budget monitoring, purchase orders, lease document references and all installed applications. Asset classifications include mainframe, AS/400, Unix, Intel, DSAD, tape, router, switches, laptop, PC scanner and printer. Sub-classes include database, report, security, system management, middleware and Internet. This month Canada Life will begin tracking not only hardware and software but circuits, Kennedy said.

This information does not necessarily mean assets are used more cost-effectively in the enterprise, Kennedy added, but they help business leaders make more informed decisions. Sometimes, this can allow corporations to do more with their money.

“”We haven’t increased our budget but we have increased our infrastructure,”” she said. “”We have way more servers now.””

Asset management has also changed the way IT is charged to the company. Allocated costs have replaced budgeted rates at Canada Life, for example, turning IT into more of a partner of the company than an internal consultant. “”We’re not allowed to use the term ‘chargeback’ anymore,”” Kennedy said. “”That’s too ‘us vs. them.'””

Irwin said managing assets is becoming more important than merely tracking them because enterprises are trying to work with fewer contracts with standardized terms that include cost protection and predictability. “”There’s an increased need for information in the IT asset portfolio,”” she said. “”Clients know what (IT asset management) is. Now they want to know how to do it.””

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