IT Asset Management

IT asset management refers to any set of processes and procedures that helps an organization keep track of its technology resources. At the simplest level, asset management is really just inventory control. What hardware and software do you own, and where is it located? In its more advanced forms, asset management can help you better understand how your staff uses technology, with the goal of becoming more efficient and standardized in your purchasing and decision making.

Most organizations use software to help track their assets. An Microsoft Excel spreadsheet will do in a pinch, especially for smaller libraries. However, there are also lots of programs designed specifically for asset control. A few of these programs are discussed in more detail in our Further Resources section that follows. Among other things, an asset management system should be able to record serial numbers, vendor contact information, warranty information, software license numbers, activation keys, hardware configuration and networking data (e.g., IP address, subnet mask).

Keep in mind that asset management is a continuous process rather than a one-time event to help your library comply with regulations and license agreements. Any time you acquire new software or hardware, it has to be entered into the asset management system. Any time you move a computer or dispose of it, those changes have to be recorded.

IT managers and software vendors sometimes distinguish between hardware asset management and software asset management (aka SAM or software license management). The term IT asset management encompasses both hardware and software. As you’re doing research, you’ll also see reference to asset management as it relates to finance and investment, which is completely unrelated to the topic of this article.

Why Use an Asset Management System?

  • Avoiding duplicate purchases. When you’re managing 20 or 50 or 200 computers, how often do you lose track of what you own? If a colleague needs a new computer, do you have an unused PC in the building? Does it have enough power and memory? Do you have the right software licenses? It’s easy to lose track of computers, printers, routers, cell phones and PDAs, and it’s even easier to lose track of software CDs and software licenses. Asset management can stop you from buying more than you need.
  • Automating reports and inventories. How many PCs in your library are more than four years old? Which computers need an update because they have an old version of Adobe Reader or Flash? Which machines don’t have enough RAM to run Microsoft Office 2007? You can answer all of these questions with good asset management software.
  • Renegotiating software license agreements to lower costs. With asset management, you’ll know which machines have an installed copy of a particular program. You might find that you have 40 licenses for Microsoft Office, but you only have 35 copies installed in your library. Or a piece of software could be installed on a machine where it never gets used. Some asset management software will actually keep track of how often your end users are running different applications (this function is sometimes known as software metering). In other words, you may be able to remove unused and under-used copies of a program and then renegotiate that licensing agreement. Even if you can’t renegotiate your licensing agreement, you’ll have a better sense of usage patterns so that you don’t over-purchase in the future.
  • Complying with software license agreements. Once you buy a copy of Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office, it’s easy to start installing the software everywhere, regardless of how many licenses you actually own. There might be three or four people in the organization who think they’ve been empowered to install software and manage licenses. In other words, lack of centralized asset management often leads to violations of software licensing agreements. If the Business Software Association (BSA) ever audits your library, you could be faced with significant fines.
  • Saving time. Having all of your IT information in a single, centralized location will save you countless hours of frustrated searching. How many times in the average month do you need to track down a software license number, an activation key, the phone number of a sales representative or a tech support department?
  • Standardizing your IT environment. After you have an up-to-date inventory of your hardware and software, you may notice that you own three different graphics-editing programs and four different word-processing programs. And you have 12 different hardware configurations. If you’re trying to simplify maintenance and troubleshooting by standardizing your IT environment, an asset management system will help you establish a baseline. It also helps you ensure that new technology acquisitions meet the standards that you’ve established.
  • Obeying local laws and regulations. Most libraries are departments of city or county government, and these governments have rules to prevent waste and fraud. If you purchased a new computer within the past few years, the auditors may want to know exactly where that PC is located.
  • Complying with e-rate rules. If you’ve ever purchased networking equipment with e-rate funds, that equipment has to be tracked carefully. According to the SLD (Schools and Libraries Division) Web site, “the applicant must maintain asset and inventory records for five years from the date of purchase that clearly show the actual location of the equipment.” For more information, see Demonstrating Compliance and Transfers of Equipment. Also, other grant-making organizations have similar tracking and record-keeping requirements.
  • Planning and budgeting. If you always have an up-to-date inventory of your current hardware and software, it’s much easier to predict your future requirements.

Key Actions

  • Decide what you’ll track. Make a list of the information you’re tracking now and discuss with your colleagues whether you should be tracking anything else. This can help you decide on an asset management tool.
  • Pick the right tool. An IT notebook works fine in a lot of small libraries, and it costs about $4. If you’re ready to go digital, a spreadsheet may be all you need if you only manage a handful of computers. However, even for small libraries there are advantages in using specialized asset management software such as TechAtlas or Spiceworks.
  • Evaluate free software (e.g., TechAtlas). TechAtlas was designed specifically for libraries, and it combines asset management, technology planning and help-desk management functionality. You can use it to document the configuration of desktop PCs, servers, printers, local networks, wide area networks, Internet connections and more. It’s easy to use, and WebJunction provides documentation, training and support. Spiceworks is another free program with good asset management functionality.
  • Create a baseline inventory. Once you’ve picked a tool, do a complete inventory of the hardware and software in your library.
  • Assess your licensing compliance. Once you have a complete list of all your software, compare it to your current software-licensing agreements and ask yourself if you are under-licensed in any key areas.
  • Look for savings. Do you have more copies of a program and more software licenses than you really need? You might be able to renegotiate with the software vendor, sell some of your unused copies or plan better so you don’t over-purchase again next time.
  • Look for inefficiencies. After you’ve completed your inventory, ask yourself and your staff, “Are there any ways we can simplify and standardize our hardware and software so that we’re supporting fewer configurations?”

Stories from the Field

They had a lot of software that they were paying for and either didn't need or weren't using, or weren't even aware of. They were spending a lot of money on stuff that they didn't even know they had and they didn't know what it did. When I walked in the door I didn't have a list of anything as far as who are our vendors, who's the contact person, what is our customer number, what is our license number. How many licenses of this software do we have? I didn't have any of that, but they had all this software running. So, the antivirus for example. It may be on 150 computers and we only have 100 licenses. That's a problem. Or some of the computers didn’t even have antivirus software and those are the ones that had the most viruses.

Jaketha Farmer
Bossier Parish Libraries, LA

I have software inventory, I have hardware inventory. I try to keep track of all the IP addresses that we have going out. So spreadsheets have absolutely been my best friend. I probably have 30 of them on my computer for different things I’m trying to keep track of. Subscriptions, like our antivirus subscription, replacement computers, what computers need to be recycled and what computers need to be repurchased. Peripherals, where are all my printers, what are all my printers doing, what are the IPs on them. Ink cartridges, because we have so many different printers, we have to have specific numbers for each cartridge, and so when I need to reorder one, I can just look it up in my spreadsheet. We have a lot of cost analysis that we are trying to keep track of, printer cost, paper cost. Let’s see what I have here. Jack numbers, where everything’s plugged in. So, yeah, the list could go on and on.

Sarah McElfresh
North Madison County Public Library, IN

Yeah, we use Spiceworks, which is a free product. I'm not really sure who it's from. But it's asset management and it does network protection, looks through the entire network, picks out everything that's connected to the network, which for us is almost everything. All our printers are networked and half of our phones are. We use Voice over IP for about half the phones in the building, so it pulls all that information off the network and puts it in a nice little graph for me.

Robin Hastings
Missouri River Regional Library, MO

This was years and years ago, we needed some kind of a database, just to keep track of things. And I took one of those Microsoft Access templates, those pre-canned asset management databases, and tweaked it and added some fields. And then my brother, who's a database programmer, he came over and helped me make a bunch of changes to it. We added a purchase order portion to it too. So I have a separate database that handles all of our purchase orders, tracking and history. And it works well, but it's a really awkward system to work in, so it's not perfect. And so just actually yesterday I was talking to one of our administrative assistants. She has a separate canne- purchase software that does asset and inventory tracking that she uses for everything else but technology, because I've always had this other one for technology. And we're going to migrate all that data over to her system. And then I've got all these new computers I just got in from Dell that I'm going to have her put directly into the new system. And it makes more sense because she pays the bills. So that way when the invoices come in, she can immediately go ahead and put the serial numbers and stuff into the asset system there and then we just put the tags on them -- we have little property tags that go on the computers themselves. It's a good system and it works well, especially at the end of the year when it comes to auditing. The auditors come in and they start wanting to know, what did you buy and what did you get rid of and what's the depreciated value of this? You need to be able to pull those kind of reports.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

Further Resources

We’ve included a few additional resources on the topic of IT asset management.