The typical IT executive at a Global 2000 company is responsible for managing IT resources for many thousands of user accounts, computers, networks, applications and systems -- that is, the entire supporting infrastructure to run a modern enterprise. With all the complexity inherent in a system with thousand of interconnected nodes, quantifying and maintaining the IT inventory might seem to be a Sisyphean task.
For example, a few years ago as part of an IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) implementation project, British Telecommunication PLC audited its IT assets and discovered it had 20,000 more computers than it thought. Clearly, that was a serious IT resource and asset management problem, representing millions in underutilized corporate assets. A properly implemented Configuration Management Database (CMDB) system can solve such problems and improve IT service delivery effectiveness with a minimum amount of management overhead.
Benefits of an IT asset management system
The problem for many companies is that the IT asset management systems have traditionally been thought of for hardware or capital assets only. To realize the most benefit from any asset tracking application, think of a company's total IT assets as a portfolio of managed resources cutting across the enterprise. A good asset management system will root out redundant systems, extra network circuits, legacy hardware, unused software licenses, underutilized staff and other costly overhead expenses, while providing the financial department with the tools to accurately capture the corporate IT inventory for audit and reporting purposes. A CMDB framework is used to develop just such comprehensive database and analysis tools to quantify the effectiveness of the existing resources and to pinpoint areas for spending adjustments to meet IT and business productivity goals.
The CMDB framework has always been an essential part of ITIL Configuration Management best practices. In a nutshell, CMDB is a standardized database schema designed to be used in support of an ITIL IT resource management project. According to ITIL, Configuration Management consists essentially of four tasks:
- Identification: This is the specification and identification of all IT components and their inclusion in the CMDB.
- Control: This is the management of each Configuration Item, specifying who is authorized to 'change' it.
- Status: This task is the recording of the status of all Configuration Items in the CMDB, and the maintenance of this information.
- Verification: This task involves reviews and audits to ensure that the information contained in the CMDB is accurate.
A properly implemented CMDB can reap considerable cost savings to the enterprise. However, there are some direct overhead costs associated with the data capture process itself. Before investing in any systems, it is wise to make critical business decisions about how closely the assets need to be managed and how the inventory information will be used. The right approach and resulting ROI will depend on the quality and reusability of the data, organization size and business strategy.
Industries with high IT capital investments, like telecommunications and financial services, will experience a better ROI than retail or manufacturing, where corporate outlay on IT infrastructure is traditionally low. One potential outcome in implementing an asset management system could be millions of dollars saved in recycled and recovered software licenses. From a corporate perspective, implementing a well-executed resource management program means not only being able to use existing systems more efficiently but also improved management of the acquisition cycle.
The good news is that after years of weak industry support, poorly integrated point solutions and a lack of standards, major technology vendors have finally gotten the message that global corporate executives are demanding better-quality tools to tackle their IT inventory and resource management problems. Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, BMC Software Inc., Fujitsu Ltd. and CA Inc., among others, have recently created a vendor consortium to develop integrated standards and applications to more effectively identify and organize business-critical IT assets across the enterprise.
While standards creation has generally been seen as a positive sign of a maturing industry, the fact that Microsoft has thus far chosen not to participate in the effort is an indication that it might be prudent for corporate IT executives to approach any CMDB projects cautiously -- at least until the standardization process has progressed to the point that an overall vendor integration direction is clear. There is some feeling that the standardization and integration effort will benefit the vendors more than their customers.
For the fiscally responsible IT executive, a CMDB initiative could represent either an opportunity to finally stop a major source of costly IT asset shrinkage or an expensive layer of unnecessary overhead, depending on the level of schema sophistication and vendor willingness to embrace the emerging standards. The bottom line is that as asset management methodologies become more consistent and automated, the implementation ROI becomes higher. If vendors can create the proper framework, CMDB will deliver the information that allows corporations to become more effective in the marketplace.
Beth Cohen, president of Luth Computer Specialists Inc. a consulting practice specializing in IT infrastructure for smaller companies, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT delivery organizations from both the user and vendor perspectives. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.