Author: Keiren Tilbrook
The ITAM function typically sits between business and IT operations, which can be an uncomfortable place. Worst case is where the ITAM team is isolated with a foot in neither camp, a voice in the wilderness telling us we’re all doomed! Best case is where the team is engaged with – and has the respect of – all teams involved in IT asset lifecycles. So how do effective ITAM teams achieve this? I interviewed IT asset managers in three of our biggest and best customers to find out.
The first thing that jumps out is that success means different things; for one customer in the financial sector, risk reduction was king. For another, it was all about cost avoidance. For the third, these ‘savings’ were only booked if they could be ripped out of the budget.
Approaches varied as well; for two out of three, centralising procurement was crucial, while the other was equally adamant that having business and IT teams own the budget was the only way to true accountability.
However, there were a few key themes that emerged throughout.
There was common agreement that it is critical to have confidence in your ITAM data (a broad term but we’re talking mostly about inventory, contract and license records). I recall being in a meeting once where an asset manager was walking through an ITAM dashboard that showed a $96,000,000,000 risk in Oracle, and the thing was, no-one blinked an eye because hey, it was so ridiculous (even for Oracle). Such things point to a degree of scepticism about ITAM data that is common, especially to IT Operations – who naturally assumes no-one understands their data like they do (one of my favourite terms used during the interviews was ‘operational idiocy’).
An IT asset manager needs to be rock-solid on the coverage, accuracy and currency of the ITAM data, so they can say “no, hey listen, this is real, and we have a problem here”. While not in the billions (hopefully), these risks can be in the millions, and you do not want to be seen as crying wolf.
Achieving this level of confidence is really hard in a constantly changing IT ecosystem, but there are specialized data quality tools out there to help. The experienced IT asset manager also knows that the ITAM system will never tell the whole picture and that data needs to be presented always in context and sometimes with a dose of realism.
One question I asked each respondent was whether their ITAM team had ‘customers’, and the answers were instructive. One manager likened it more to a doctor/patient relationship, where you had to have the freedom and authority to have the “inconvenient conversation” about a specific health issue – for example, license compliance. The customer is definitely not always right. At the same time, all agreed it was no good just beating teams over the head with such issues.
Operational idiocy aside, most people want to do the right thing, and one part of the ITAM team’s role is to translate arcane licensing terms in ways that make operational sense. The path to success is being down “in the trenches” with the operational teams, working collaboratively to solve complex problems. Rather than customer relationships, it was more about partnerships. A measure of success is that other teams come to you for advice, in advance of actually buying something. In one example, the Engineering department sought help from ITAM to source an application, and it turned out the $5,000 bit of software needed a $50,000 license management server so, needless to say, an alternative solution was found.
The other key relationship aspect identified by all interviewees was executive sponsorship. It’s in the nature of software asset management that compliance issues are somewhat embarrassing, and there’s a tendency to keep them on the down-low. Getting attention from the executive level can raise the profile, make some noise and get action happening from other teams. One manager commented though about being careful not to overplay the executive card; partly to prevent resentment from operations over being pushed into actions and also to avoid the perception of not using your own influencing skills.
The best, effective example was where the General Manager had a commercial background and an active interest in IT asset management. Rather than ITAM having to ask for help on specific occasions, the GM provided “casual and constant attention”, which was hugely effective in showing everyone why ITAM mattered… it became embedded in the culture.
The consensus was that this is probably the key ingredient and possibly the hardest to achieve; making IT asset management part of the furniture. One customer I profiled is an energy company where process and policy are paramount (for health and safety reasons), and ITAM was able to insert a spending policy into the corporate Code of Conduct. Another path is to own or be a key player in processes such as procurement. All respondents noted that contract renewals are a fantastic opportunity for ITAM to add-value, and one where it can be about actual savings rather than cost-avoidance. If the ITAM team is organised, they can lead these initiatives from the front, showcasing their capabilities.
Another way to do this is to “land and expand” into other non-ITAM areas such as IT Security; one manager noted that the ITAM system often provides a more accurate and current view of what’s actually in the environment, as opposed to a security tool, which in this instance was creating objects for every single short-lived AWS instance (at a rate of about a thousand a day).
Raising the standing of ITAM in the organisation also make it easier to internally recruit that most precious and scarce of resources, good people.
The three organisations I spoke to are all IT asset management success stories, and I thank them for their time and insights. There were two key take-aways for me; the first and most obvious is that trustworthy data is an essential foundation for ITAM. What I hadn’t appreciated though was the importance of being ‘organisationally savvy’, to really understand your company and how ITAM operates within it.