Exec Tech

How asset management tools are proving their value

room of computers

Agency IT managers know all too well the complexity of managing thousands of PCs, mobile devices, servers, network nodes, and all the attendant software licenses and upgrades. The task can be overwhelming, but asset management tools such as BDNA’s Technopedia and Flexera Software’s FlexNet Manager Suite give agencies the ability to collect, categorize and assess any software, hardware or virtual device attached to their networks.

The rising adoption of such tools marks a big improvement over the not-so-distant days when IT managers based software licensing or hardware upgrade decisions on information scattered among spreadsheets and Microsoft Word documents, said Steve Schmidt, vice president of corporate development at Flexera.

Although some federal agencies still manage their IT resources that way, many are cataloging every device with an IP address and running asset management tools in conjunction with normalization and discovery software to establish a common IT language across the organization and enrich the inventory with industry information.

Technopedia, for instance, consists of an ever-growing inventory of more than 450,000 hardware and software products, making it a “catalog of all things IT,” said Walker White, BDNA’s chief technology officer.

Technopedia’s public-sector clients include the Navy, Army, Department of Homeland Security, and Securities and Exchange Commission. Private-sector companies such as Verizon, Oracle and Wells Fargo have also used the tool to take stock of what they have and make informed decisions about future purchases.

“Over the last couple years, what’s become clear is that organizations are taking Technopedia and embedding it into processes like enterprise planning and procurement,” White said. “What would happen in the past with organizations is enterprise architects would want a product, they’d go over to procurement and buy something, it would be inventoried and called something different, and they’d say, ‘We went to buy this. They bought that, but I’m seeing this deployed.’ You’ve got three different languages spoken right there. You want them speaking one.”

DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate put Technopedia to use three years ago, and its value was easy to recognize, said Shaun Blakely, the directorate's chief enterprise architect at the time.

Blakely used Technopedia to standardize the directorate’s collected IT product information. In one instance, Technopedia alerted administrators that several hundred Dell laptop PCs were reaching the end of their life cycle, which gave IT managers a head start on phasing in new products.

Technopedia provides 18 million other data points, including license requirements, shelf life and power consumption — all of which are accessible to administrators via a dashboard feature.

“It allowed more insight to different IT practitioners in regard to different specifications of products, and it provided valuable information with regard to strategic planning,” said Blakely, who is now chief enterprise architect at the State Department.

Technopedia’s success at the Science and Technology Directorate caught the attention of DHS headquarters, which went on to acquire the technology for departmentwide use.

IT asset management tools are also beginning to play a role in how some agencies comply with TechStat, PortfolioStat, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative and other federal policies. Those programs call for smarter investments, more efficient systems and getting rid of IT investments that aren’t going anywhere, Schmidt said.

And the best place to start is for an agency to figure out what tools it has and what it is spending its money on.

“As agencies and organizations are trying to be more efficient and maximize the budget they have, they have to make sure what they spend on hardware and software — a big part of IT budgets — is allocated ideally and optimized,” Schmidt said.

He cited one case in which a military agency used Flexera’s IT asset management tool to save $17 million in software costs from 2006 to 2011. The agency reduced license expenditures several times over.

“Using these asset management tools, agencies can certainly reduce costs, and they can make sure to eliminate risks of being out of compliance and having large, unnecessary and unbudgeted costs appear in a life cycle,” Schmidt said.

The tools can also enhance security, said Gary Winkler, formerly the Army’s program executive officer for enterprise information systems.

The Army briefly used BDNA’s Technopedia in 2006 and is expected to run a pilot program with the tool’s normalization capabilities in 2013, he said.

“You can’t manage and defend a network if you don’t know what’s on it,” said Winkler, who is now president of government contractor Cyber Solutions and Services. “Knowing what’s on it and gaps on a network [is] vital when planning IT investments.”

Winkler added that asset management also protects agencies from vendors who challenge an organization’s license use.

“When large vendors come in ... and say you’re using more licenses than you acquired and you better pay up, now we have a way to defend against that,” he said.

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