Utilization, risk reduction drive IT asset-tracking projects

TORONTO — If Canadian enterprises want to do a better job of tracking their hardware, the solution might be a simple matter of putting stickers on their PCs, experts told the Technology Asset Management Conference.

As part of a panel discussion during the event last Friday, Zurich North America’s Canadian plans and controls manager, Nikki Cule, said her firm used the stickers to help individual users learn when their machines were coming off lease. This was only one part of a company-wide effort at Zurich to get its inventory under control.

“”Most users couldn’t recognize a machine’s serial number if their life depended on it,”” Cule said. “”But when they saw their machine was about to expire, you better believe they were calling into IT to get it replaced.””

Cule said Zurich North America, which employs 650 people at the insurance giant’s Canadian operation, has also managed to cut back 80 per cent of its telecom costs by better managing invoices and improving the process by which costs are approved. This includes consolidating the invoice reconciliation to one person, which Cule said was important when managers don’t know what they’re signing.

“”We had one $10,000 invoice that one manager signed off every month simply because that’s what his predecessor did,”” she said. “”Was that something we needed? Was it something that’s still being utilized?””

Utilization should also come up when new staff come on board, said Shawn O’Neill, senior services manager for ASAP Software in Mississauga, Ont. He estimated that companies could save 10 to 20 per cent of their software costs by reallocating applications. “”If one person is joining your firm, chances are it’s because someone else has left,”” he said. “”There’s also a lot of requests for software that’s just used for one project, and then someone else requests the same application for something else.””

Anna Kennedy, who has been leading an IT asset management project at Toronto-based TD Bank, said senior executives are demanding to see higher utilization not merely in the products themselves, but also in the “”freebies”” that are included (and later ignored) in many contracts. That’s one of the reasons she said asset management staff should report directly to the CIO.

“”You can have siloed business units, but you’ve got to centralize the IT,”” she said. “”Otherwise you’ll have everyone managing their own little IT empire, and that gets expensive.””

Cule said part of that centralized process means being strict with junior IT staff who install CDs with new software at their own discretion. At Zurich, she said staff have to sign agreements promising to adhere to the policy. Invoices are even more closely monitored. Sometimes, Cule said, the terms of a contract can be changed by including new information on an invoice. When that’s signed, the user has tacitly agreed to the vendor’s new terms and conditions.

“”None of us are perfect at this,”” she admitted. “”That’s why you have to capitalize on your war stories — to make sure it never happens again.””

O’Neill said most firms fail at getting their IT asset management under control by shooting too high. He recommended a quarterly review of all software licences to ease the process.

“”You’re essentially moving a ship,”” he said. “”You’ve got to guide them through the water.””

Mike Zelle, vice-president of marketing for software provider Isogon Corp. in New York City, said his firm is seeing more customers investing in IT asset management to reduce risks to security threats as well as bring down costs. Breaches or PR disasters often provide the trigger event to get asset management projects started, he said.

“”It’s sort of like a dull pain in the body — it’s recognized, but not enough to do anything about it,”” he said.

The sixth annual IT Asset Management Conference was hosted by Technology Asset Management Inc.

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