EXPERT ADVICE

Gadgets on the Run: Keeping Tabs on Moving IT Assets

It’s no secret that the business world is going mobile. Companies are beginning to move to a virtual environment — especially sales teams who have to be on the road more often. The trend of telecommuting is also starting to catch on. With this in mind, IT managers are faced with a new headache: managing what they can’t see. Companies are struggling to create and understand mobile IT strategy.

IT asset managers are faced with the challenge of managing mobile “moving assets” in a variety of scenarios including, but not limited to:

  • geographically dispersed offices (including multi-national organizations)
  • larger number of mobile devices than ever before
  • growing trends toward telecommuting
  • virtualization technologies and ASP (hosted) services

While mobile and remote workforces are nothing new, moving assets can cost companies millions (even billions) of dollars when not accounted for, and they can put organizations at even greater risk. While physical hardware usually has a shelf life of three to five years, mobile assets have a much shorter lifespan.

Special Attention

There are a number of activities that enterprise IT staffs need to pay special attention to if they want to effectively manage these moving assets:

  1. Define your mobile IT strategy. The tendency is to start with the technology and work backwards to try to solve the business problem. Accounting for mobile assets within your organization’s regular ITAM (IT asset management) program should be the norm. However, mobile assets are likely the most difficult to track and manage, and — most often — the type of asset that is most often unaccounted for.
  2. Identify the right tool set for managing mobile IT. There are many solutions out there, from scanning tagged hardware to automating software asset management solutions. There are many options available, but finding the right one is imperative. Ideally, whatever type of solution you use, it would be best to integrate it with other systems, such as your financial systems, to provide better trend and cost analysis, geographic mapping and more robust reporting, as well as to enable better ROI (return on investment) tracking against monies spent. Some tools that are helpful for managing mobile assets:
    • Automated Solutions. Like IT asset management, mobile asset management needs discovery and ongoing management. From tracking hardware — such as PCs, Macs, laptops, PDAs, smart phones and many other moving assets — to tracking the software and user license sitting within the hardware — from MS Office Suite to Adobe — having an automated asset tracking system can eliminate costly and time-consuming site visits. In the case of moving assets, an automated ITAM tracking system with a discovery feature would be extremely useful for reporting enterprise software and hardware assets on each of the moving assets without doing a physical “roll call.”
    • RFID. For the large enterprise, this can be extremely useful in tracking hardware — from PDAs (personal data assistants) to laptops to servers. When the information from the barcode/scanning technology is integrated into the whole ITAM program, it can initially give you some powerful ROI.
  3. Deal with leased and inactive mobile devices. How often do you realize that one of your employees has three BlackBerrys or two laptops? (Of course, he or she is only using one, while the other is propping the office door open). A simple solution is to run a quarterly report for missing leased equipment — from laptops to mobile PDAs — and review which computers have not connected to the network within 30 days or more. Assuming that you’re following ITAM best practices, you’ll be able to quickly find your missing and inactive items for redeployment within your organization or to retire the IT asset (instead of letting it become a dust catcher).
  4. Manage software licenses — reduce cost and decrease your risk. Software licenses on mobile assets allow vendors to pull in millions of dollars during vendor audits. Software licenses are usually licensed by usage and tracked via discovery. Similar to mobile devices, unused licenses should also be taken into account via usage analysis. By proactively managing software licenses and usage on mobile assets, you can reduce risk and costs.
  5. Get in step with the greening of technology. While green technology does exist, it’s in its infancy and it’s expensive. However, IT disposal — especially of mobile devices — can be utilized for a company’s green program (if one exists) or even for charitable donations (there are a lot of programs taking cell phones, laptops, PDAs and the like). Fundamentally, disposing of your mobile assets could be looked upon as a way of “doing good.”

Bigger Picture

If nothing else, remember these three things:

  1. Effective management of mobile assets is a part of the larger IT asset management strategy and should not be viewed as a separate type of asset management program.
  2. One major advantage of proper management of mobile devices — as well as fixed assets in general — is the ability to show a quick return on investment in terms of dollars, savings and business gaps throughout the organization, especially with multi-location and multinational companies. This always scores points with the senior executives and may put some dollars back in the budget, as you can build a real case on savings with real dollars. Mobile devices certainly would account for a percentage of savings from retaining, recovering, deploying or retiring “moving” IT assets.
  3. Because mobile devices are not always top of mind with the IT folks or senior management and rarely (if ever) tracked properly, it’s imperative to create policies and processes — and enforce them.


Phara E. McLachlan is the president and CEO of Animus Solutions.


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