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IT inventory and compliance: Check IT List

Here are five steps to ensuring your IT inventory goes beyond tallying hardware and software to ensure compliance with licensing and other documentation regulations.

It's a New Year. That means it's time for IT inventory.

Tracking IT inventory means more than identifying computers, peripherals, networks, operating systems and applications. There are legal and regulatory reasons for making an IT inventory above and beyond the typical business practices of stock, managing assets, calculating depreciation and calculating investment credits.

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Organizations like the Small Business Alliance are funded by big software manufacturers to ensure that business software users maintain complete, current collections of paid-up licenses for the software they use. This ensures that businesses use commercial software that is valid, current and properly documented (as well as ensuring software vendors are getting their due income).

The SBA helps persuade business users to comply by regularly issuing mailings to businesses, indicating the possibility of an on-site audit. Disclosures of audits include software that's in use but not properly licensed or purchased. Failure to comply can result in fines of up to $250,000 per invalid item.

This Check IT List offers tips and tools to help small and medium-sized businesses properly document hardware and software licensing and purchases.

  1. Schedule an inventory period. Perform a thorough IT census of computers, peripherals, devices and other infrastructure items. Many organizations schedule this activity over a weekend (or long weekend) to allow for ample time to work through this process.

  2. Map out your inventory data. Before a formal inventory can begin, it's essential to know what kind of items the inventory will include. Researching and recording this information in advance helps inventory takers know what to include in the actual inventory check. Create simple screen forms or printed sheets that make it easy to capture all the necessary data, and provide examples so that all data sheets will be consistent.

  3. Perform the actual inventory. Count the amount of computers and other devices. Tally all software in use and be sure to include version data with subscription periods or license expirations as applicable. There are inexpensive software tools that can help. (See software resources below.)

  4. Reconcile licenses, keys, subscriptions, currency and purchase information. When the inventory is complete, the real work begins. This is when you'll get a real sense of what's really on users' machines. This is also when illegal, unwanted, or uninvited software turns up, so you'll want to make a policy for what's acceptable and what's not.

  5. Remove items that are not on an "approved" list. Approved items should be current, have valid license keys and have an associated invoice, purchase receipt or purchase order, along with an actual record of payment. Those items for which such data is not available must either be discarded or brought into compliance. Note that upgrades to establish validity and compliance can be cheaper than buying new, full, retail packages. This also applies to promotional pricing deals and competitive upgrades where they apply.

This exercise produces many more benefits than providing IT census data and making sure licenses are valid and current. It provides a regular opportunity to enforce disposal of unapproved, unwanted or illegal software, and it helps prevent security problems as well. Though there are costs involved, the benefits of pro-actively curing such potential problems are terrific -- especially when you could be facing $250,000 in fees for each unlicensed or illegal item!

Tools of note

One inexpensive inventory tool is MVPCInfo. It does not need to be installed permanently on the machines it inventories. It runs as soon as a local copy of the MVPCinfo.exe file is executed. Inventory takers can carry around a copy on a floppy, CD or DVD (or download it), and companies can get by with only as many copies of the software as may be in active use at the same time. (In my own small company, which has had as many as 20 PCs, we've had no trouble getting by with just one copy.) It's available for $25 a copy.

Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer based in Austin, Texas, who regularly covers Windows, security and markup languages for multiple TechTarget Web sites. He also writes regularly for Tom's Hardware Guide, TechBuilder and Processor Magazine. E-mail Ed at [email protected].

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