Rick Cahoon doesn’t like to think about the good ol’ days — before the advent of automated asset-management tools.
As enterprise-support manager at Wilbur-Ellis, an international agricultural and industrial company headquartered in San Francisco, Cahoon is responsible for tracking notebook and desktop PCs, network gear and software for more than 2,200 employees spread out across the globe in 215 branch offices. This was a task the IT team used to undertake manually.
“We always struggled at inventory time because it would take up so many man-hours,” Cahoon says. “We used to send out inventory sheets to branch offices so they could input all their equipment and software. But then, when the sheets came back in, we’d find out the branches weren’t using the same database or criteria. What a nightmare!”
To alleviate this problem, Cahoon turned to automated asset-management tools from KACE Networks. The KBOX appliance automatically gathers information about all assets — hardware and software — connected to the network, including configurations, versions and licensing details.
Fred Broussard, research director for enterprise system infrastructure software at IDC in Framingham, Mass., says accurate detail-gathering is critical for organizations that want to optimize resource utilization, improve auditing and increase data security. “Asset management allows you to answer important questions, such as what assets are where, have they been used and by whom,” he says.
Although he’s seen double-digit growth in the overall market for asset-management tools over the past year or so, Broussard has not seen rapid adoption within the government sector. He attributes this to the misconception that asset-management tools are a nice-to-have, or luxury, item.
Cahoon agrees that asset management is often misunderstood, adding that his IT peers in state and local government are missing out on an opportunity to reassign or properly discard unused assets, thereby saving money and protecting intellectually property.
“Asset-management tools are more than nice to have; they’re a must-have. I don’t see how any large IT enterprise — government, public or private — can manage without these tools when the liability of network assets 2,000 miles away in a branch office falls back on you,” he says.
For instance, he uses the KBOX to maintain compliance by matching the number of licenses the company owns to those in use, as well as checking that users have the proper versions of applications and security tools. “We have a filter set up on the appliance so that anytime a user logs on with an out-of-date product we can automatically run a script and load the new version,” he says.
He also uses the appliance to alert him when assets move among branch offices so the firm’s accounting teams know where to pay usage taxes. “I can instantly see that a computer that was assigned to San Francisco has been moved to Minnesota,” he says.
Finally, he says these tools enable him to make better use of company manpower. “Instead of our IT team doing manual updates and enforcement on 10,000 machines, we can automatically tell that only 10 are out of compliance and focus our attention on them,” he says.
Paul Burns, senior analyst at consultancy Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo., says the public sector should be looking closely at these tools, which have become more feature-rich and powerful over the past year. “State and local governments are under pressure to create compliance initiatives that require them to track assets better. They need the visibility into their resource utilization and data protection that only asset-management tools can provide,” he says.