Keeping your IT assets organized and properly managed is an integral practice for long-term success. And, if you’ve been staying up-to-date with the latest IT Asset Management trends, you know that it’s also about making subtle, but well-informed choices on how to develop a proper IT toolkit. As such, you’re definitely going to want to keep your IT asset discovery game on-point.
But, what is it, and why can it benefit you and your company? In this article—relevant whether you’re an industry insider or just taking baby steps—we’ll aim to tell you all about IT asset discovery tools, and how they can help you immediately gain an edge by:
- Automating the IT application inventory process.
- Centralizing your asset database.
- Detecting any anomalies on the software or hardware side.
- Exponentially improving reporting and analysis.
- Giving you a complete view of your asset network.
In addition, we’ll also tackle inventory management, the sister process to asset discovery, and paramount for running a tight ship. We’ll also learn:
- What inventory management is
- Its main differences (and similarities) with IT asset discovery
- How both of these combined lead to a CMDB, and why you need it.
- Best practices for IT asset discovery and inventory management.
- What to look for in an asset discovery system
Let’s take a look.
IT Asset Discovery in a Nutshell
Asset discovery is the process of classifying, organizing and overseeing the totality of your IT assets. Of course, these assets are not just digital, but a mix of hardware and software; in a world where every little device is cloud-based, competent management is not just about control, but about maintaining the integrity of your data across the whole network.
Hence, you’ll ideally be using a platform that combines software discovery tools and hardware discovery tools to help you catalogue and control this mismash of devices.
Consider, for instance, just how much organizations use mobile devices like laptops and smartphones. When you stop and think about it for a moment, it becomes evident that your IT team needs to be able to get a clear panorama of what’s going on around the clock.
What Is Inventory Management?
Businesses operate thanks to the cooperation of many moving parts; resources like cars, real estate, finances, stock, etc. need to be catalogued as well.
This task, called inventory management, also applies to the world of IT. An IT asset inventory management software essentially organizes IT assets found by different IT discovery tools, such as:
- IT discovery software
- B2B (Business to Business) connectors
- Manual Uploads
- Manual Entry
- Barcode scanners
This process is meant to be executed alongside proper IT asset discovery. The end goal is to produce reliable asset data, and to ensure that they are properly tracked by the IT asset inventory software. .
What’s The Difference Between IT Asset Discovery and Inventory Management?
It’s not hard to see why people tend to confuse these two terms. But, as much as they may resemble each other, they refer to different parts of a greater process.
IT asset discovery is specifically and primarily linked to identifying and managing IT assets: the combination of hardware and software that makes up your company network.
Inventory Management, on the other hand, takes the information provided by these discovery tools and creates a database, unifying input from several sources into a greater whole. Additionally, these IT asset inventory tools should link IT assets to contract or financial information, as per ITAM best practices.
But, even though they’re not the same, that doesn’t mean that they are mutually exclusive; the best asset discovery tools combine these two under a larger umbrella, effectively consolidating your management to a single platform.
Better yet, this single system can lead the way for building a CMDB alongside a normalized catalogue.
What Is a CMDB?
CMDB stands for Configuration Management Database, the very backbone of an Information Technology Management Software (ITSM). This all-in-one database stores detailed information about your IT assets, and the relationships between them.
Moreover, it concentrates this information from a variety of sources (internal and external), allowing you to access these valuable data points in one location. In turn, this enables you to get a comprehensive, on-the-fly view of your entire network infrastructure.
What’s the benefit of this type of real-time, all-encompassing IT database? Making your life easier by simplifying IT asset management by orders of magnitude.
Best Practices for IT Asset Discovery and Inventory Management
As with everything in life, success starts with the basics. IT asset discovery and inventory management, thankfully, are no different. Let’s take a look:
IT Asset Discovery Best Practices
What Assets Are You Discovering?
First, define what type of IT assets you will be using your software to discover. It’s better to begin with devices like laptops, desktops, phones, and software, and work your way up to more complex items.
What Tools Are You Using?
As we saw above, all roads may lead to Rome, but not every IT asset discovery tool is built the same. In fact, it’s encouraged to use multiple discovery tools, such as software tools, barcode scanners, manual inputs, and built-in programs with discovery capabilities. Some might be better at figuring out hardware and devices, others may excel at datacenter software.
Work Out a Process
Being organized pays off, so create a roadmap, or, in other words, define a discovery process. If you do, you’ll ensure that assets are properly counted, and be able to document them in an inventory management database once they are.
After, you’ll be able to document any lifecycle changes to your assets. When done right, your IT staff will have a clear line of sight to the dates when assets were purchased, shipped, were received, and finally put into active duty.
Use the Same System
Different IT asset discovery tools tend to report data to inventory databases in different ways. Thus, making consistent asset reports can be a big headache, or lead to even more embarrassing— and costly — errors down the line.
Data normalization via database scripts or software normalization tools can help you get around this potential hindrance, and is easily one of the pillars of IT asset management best practices.
Inventory Management Best Practices
Define a Lifecycle for Your Assets
Nothing lasts forever (not even the universe), and IT assets also follow this axiom. Documenting the lifecycle of each asset can save you plenty of confusion down the line. This information will let IT admins know when a device or asset is active, in storage, checked out, available, or out of the game for good.
In fact, best practices suggest that the full lifecycle should be documented, “birth” to “death”, right up from purchase until retirement. That way, IT admins can know whether to implement an asset for projects, whether to renew a device or license, and plan further IT purchases in advance.
Managed or Unmanaged?
The more mission-critical an IT asset is, the more it should go under the “managed” category. Hard drives, laptops, memory sticks and other storage devices, etc., should all be filed under this category.
Conversely, assets that are necessary for operational requirements but don’t contain data, like printers, monitors, etc., can be unmanaged.
To ensure a greater degree of control, managed devices can be equipped with “check-in” software that signals the relevant database periodically, and also creates an alert in the event that it doesn’t.
If sensitive assets are in storage, you should consider additional layers of information to monitor them, like barcode scanners (RFID) that instantly lets you know if someone moves the asset around. Tracking an item in a network is one thing, but physical items require extra steps.
Having an asset mapping strategy is an extremely sound practice. Avoid any confusion by tagging assets with relevant information, such as: owners, departments, projects, databases, locations, and different compliance definitions.
This, in turn, helps administrators (and the best IT asset discovery tools) provide better-quality IT asset reports.
Automate Where It Counts
Even the most productive human is prone to mistakes. But, a good asset discovery system rarely does. Any repetitive, low-complexity, low-value task is prime real estate for automation. Plus, your employees will appreciate moving on to less-redundant tasks and onto other matters that better use their skills.
If you follow these rules, you have a much better chance of avoiding common mistakes. Better still, there are completely automated tools that do most of this work for you.
What to Look For in an IT Asset Discovery Tool
We’ve hopefully established how important IT asset discovery is. But, even more than that, we hope to make a case as to why an asset discovery system can mean the difference between cumbersome extra work, and an automated breeze that requires far fewer man-hours and unnecessary fixes.
Let’s break down what efficient IT asset discovery tools do point by point.
Automating the IT Application Inventory Process
It’s no surprise to anyone that we’ve gotten much better at automating processes that used to take time and money. Thus, the best asset discovery tools can instantly help you save on both by automatically tagging all of your IT assets and IP devices in one fell swoop. That’s all of the phones, laptops, desktops, routers, switches, servers, scanners, printers, etc. on your network efficiently providing valuable software and hardware information to your IT team.
Centralizing Your Asset Database
We all would like to avoid the unforeseen, but we know it’s an unavoidable part of life. If the pandemic has taught us anything, though, is to expect the best, but prepare for the worst. IT asset discovery is the best way to be ready for malfunctions or unexpected troubleshoots.
How? After the IT asset tool analyzes your whole network, the results are saved in an independent database. When an issue crops up with one of your devices, you’ll know, and your team can deploy solutions quickly and efficiently. What’s more, the database has a history of all software updates and hardware-related changes as well, removing the guesswork when trying to figure out where in the chain of events things went wrong.
Detecting Any Anomalies on The Hardware or Software Side
Anyone following enterprise asset management best practices should have solid security policies in check. But, it’s very cumbersome—and error-prone— for IT teams to have to inspect every item in detail for compliance beforehand.
IT asset discovery tools help remove this obstacle by thoroughly scanning every asset, both upon being added to the network, and periodically to spot problems before they cascade into something bigger. And, they do it better than any human could.
Exponentially Improving Reporting and Analysis
Any IT asset discovery tool worth its price will audit every asset on your network often. This has the benefit of removing any redundant software or devices (who hasn’t forgotten to remove an ex-employee’s phone from a network full of eyes-only information?), and helping you plan network-wide updates.
Additionally, managing all of your software licenses in one place is a quality-of-life improvement you’ll be asking yourself how you lived without.
Giving You a Complete Inventory of Your Asset Network
You can only control what you know about. And, an It asset discovery tool is the perfect way to draw a complete, dynamic map of what’s going on in your network. Why dynamic? Because devices are constantly coming in and out, and having a coherent picture of the geolocation, amount, status, and type of devices that comprise your network is a necessity.
Furthermore, if you’re planning a systems-wide standards migration, having a full perspective is not just a cute add-on, it’s a necessity.
Improve Cost Management and Decision-Making
Network discovery software creates data about hardware and software that can radically improve both your cost management and decision-making. Informed choices lead to better outcomes every time, therefore increasing your IT support capabilities overall.
Knowing is half the battle. And, as for battles, you most definitely want to pick the ones you fight. Doing IT asset discovery the right way and with the correct tools can spell the difference between smooth sailing and plenty of wasted employee hours spent shoring up sub-optimal processes.
In the end, it always pays off to plan accordingly and invest in tools that can help transform asset discovery and management.