A matter of life and death?
- 29 November, 2004 22:00
For Antarctica New Zealand IT manager Mike Mahon, managing the thousands of items needed to keep the remote base operating smoothly is a big task. Everything from back-up pumps and spares for vehicles to notebook computers, radios and research equipment must be acquired, tracked and maintained.
"We run all year round and have 19 people here for the winter. They are isolated from February to October, so asset tracking doesn't get much more important than it is for us," Mahon says. "If you find out you've forgotten something, it could be an awfully long wait until you'll get it.
"To assist with the challenge, the organisation uses Navision software for accounts, purchasing, requisitions, stock control and freight tracking. However, Navision offers no preventative maintenance module, so Scott base is considering Maximo asset management software, which is already being used by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).
Scott Base staff visited AAD headquarters in Hobart, Tasmania, in October to see how the Australian system operates using the Maximo system.
At present, their asset maintenance systems are largely based on Excel spreadsheets and Word documents, but the Maximo system will mean all the information is centralised. A database in New Zealand will store the information, using a satellite link between Scott Base and Antarctica New Zealand's main office in Christchurch.
"It's more than just asset management, Maximo also offers preventative maintenance programs. Everything will be centralised and updated in one particular place," Mahon explains.
The 'single point of view' argument is seen as a major-plus for the Australians who operate four bases at Casey Station, Davis Station, Mawson Station and Macquarie Island.
"Previously, various sections (engineering, facilities, and communications) had been doing their own thing but now we can get a single view,"says AAD project engineer Jason Watson.
Even at the bottom of the world then, the power of asset management software is being realised. While it's doubtful many others would have life support criticality, the systems are nevertheless providing demonstrable benefits in efficiency improvement and cost reduction.
Gartner software analyst Kristian Steenstrup predicts during 2005, more than 30 per cent of asset management implementation projects will be considered failures by the companies undertaking them. He believes the problems will stem from a failure to establish clear goals before the project is begun, and warns false expectations of what can be achieved will inevitably result in dissatisfaction with new software.
With that in mind, the benefits of using asset management software within most organisations appear clear. Better utilisation of resources, tighter controls on expenditure and an easier road to com-pliance all make investments in the area an enticing prospect for most companies.
For many, the software is used solely to track IT-related hardware and software assets. In these cases, the benefits gleaned can be significant. As well as knowing where expensive items such as desktop and notebook computers are located, the management software can monitor everything from operating system versions to application licences.
"When you know the environment, you can determine how old your infrastructure is, you can look at which of your 9000 PCs need upgrading without having to send people around," says Fred Lefaoseu, senior technical consultant for outsourcer Fujitsu in New Zealand.
Fujitsu New Zealand, which manages thousands of desktops and assets for its outsourcing clients, first deployed Unicentre asset management software from Computer Associates six years ago. Prior to this, the companies were using spreadsheets and manual means to track and monitor the assets.
"That is definitely impossible now," he says, given the complex nature of some of the sites Fujitsu manages and the different licensing systems in place. "Being an outsourcer, we couldn't afford not to have a product like this."
He says the software enables Fujitsu to monitor and ensure only allowed machines and applications are being used in the work place. It tracks down whether people are installing applications they are not supposed to install and which may affect productivity.
"People have the ability to control environments, install products on their machines, IT managers want to ensure environments are compliant," says Lefaoseu.
For the cash-strapped public sector, building a clear inventory listing of all IT assets is even more critical.
Long-running pressures to restrain technology spending while extracting maximum value from existing investments, means North Shore City Council in Auckland has used asset management software for decades, sometimes even developing its own applications.
Chief information officer Tony Rogers says the council uses its own asset management information (AMI) for tracking its infrastructure assets, roading and parks, but uses a long-running GEAC-supplied system for its IT assets.
The GEAC system, Total Corporate Solution, was developed specifically for local bodies and has been used by North Shore City since 1986. The council is one of the last in New Zealand to use the system and seeks a replacement as it is no longer supported by the vendor.
It has undergone a tendering process, expecting to make a decision before Christmas, for installation in mid-2005.
North Shore City Council has three to four staff dealing with asset management. The current system involves them loading up details of all IT equipment (like scanners, multifunction devices, hand-helds, cameras and printers) into a register.
Rogers expects a replacement system will have similar functionality, including the recording of other council assets, such as furniture and motor vehicles
"We have 800 PCs and 70 servers. We need the ability to have a decent asset register to manage moves and changes; and provide the financial data for cost allocations," he says.
The new system will identify what equipment needs replacing and automatically 'discover' all equipment attached to the network and provide detailed reports of installed software and system utilisation levels.
"We hope to use it to forecast future capacity requirements and make budget projections," Rogers adds.
But asset management is more than just knowing what resources are in place within an organisation - it is also about knowing how those resources are being used.
For Howard Malyon, IT manager at Australian transportation company Grace Removals, his Unicentre asset management application from Computer Associates uncovered an interesting phenomenon in some of the company's 35 branches.
"We noticed we were having network performance issues in some of our locations," he says. "We could not understand why the traffic levels were increasing when we were not changing our applications or workloads."
By querying the system, Malyon discovered a growing number of staff had downloaded Real Player software and were listening to streaming radio broadcasts through their desktop PCs while working.
"We wouldn't have had any way of figuring this out before. It was simply a matter of removing the software and the problem was solved." Staff members are now encouraged to listen to traditional radios instead.
While it helps to overcome problems such as these, Malyon acknowledges it can be difficult to accurately measure the return on investment delivered by asset management software.
"I agree that it's hard to quantify an accurate ROI number, but it's also fair to say that we would need a higher head count to do the same thing manually. This factor alone is more than enough to justify the cost."
He points to other tasks such as quickly identifying which PCs are capable of running new versions of applications and which will need to be replaced. The tool also helps in ensuring software and security patches are regularly updated.
For other organisations, the biggest advantage gleaned from using asset management systems is the ability they bring to streamline the implementation of software upgrades.
With thousands of staff spread across multiple locations, rolling out a new operating system can prove to be a painful and extremely costly task. Ian McBride, chief information officer at accounting firm KPMG, is acutely aware of just how painful it can be.
"We have a big deployment of Windows XP coming up," he says. "The cost of doing this, when compared with what it cost the last time we upgraded our operating environment, will more than cover the purchase price of the asset management software. My gut feel is that we will have had a return on investment in less than 12 months."
McBride says it's now no longer a case of having 40 to 50 people "running around the countryside for six to eight weeks" upgrading individual machines. Rather, users will simply connect to the corporate network, leave their PC on overnight, and the upgrade will occur automatically.
"Globally, this has put us ahead of the game," he says. "Within the company, there is a big need to manage this deployment issue and this is the stuff that's needed to do it."
For KPMG, implementing an asset management application from ManageSoft has also helped in the area of corporate governance. "I have to sign off yearly to confirm that I have satisfactory controls over software management and licensing in place, and this application allows me to do that. Previously, I probably signed it and crossed my fingers a bit," he admits.
The other main area in which many companies find they gain considerable advantages from the introduction of asset management software is the accurate monitoring of licensing compliance. Software vendors take a dim view of companies with insufficient licences to cover all users and criminal penalties can be swiftly applied should evidence of non-compliance emerge.
At Fujitsu in Australia, the challenge is particularly acute because the company is responsible not only for its own licensing, but also for that of more than 40 large clients.
Fujitsu Australia infrastructure services development manager Stef Karagiannis says the company's Remedy software suite tracks more than 18,000 assets, including licensing details for all software under management.
"All licence details are held in the system and we know what people have installed on their PCs," he says. "It streamlines the whole compliance process for us."
Karagiannis also believes there is a clear difference between asset tracking and true asset management. By using tools properly, companies can extract considerably more value from their investments in the technology than just knowing where assets are located and whether their licences are in place.
"Discovery tools will do the tracking nicely but you can also track factors such as depreciation, contract management and other things automatically. The advantages to be gained from doing this can be quite significant," he says.
Tony Silva, head of information technology at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) agrees, saying asset management software has helped his organisation streamline its entire IT equipment procurement process.
Everything from notebook computers to PDAs and networking kits are tracked by Peregrine's AssetCentre application from the moment of order to when it is no longer needed. Such tracking became more important when the ABC moved from using wholly owned desktops to leased equipment.
Silva says plans are in place to extend the system's capabilities to allow tracking of installed software and this should be completed within the next six months.
"We know that, as long as we get our ordering information right, those details flow through the system and are available forever," he says.
How enterprises are extracting more value from their technology investments through asset management software.
Why asset management is critical in meeting growing compliance requirements.
What benefits outside IT are being harnessed by enterprises deploying asset management tools.