IT Asset Tracking: A Comprehensive Guide

IT asset tracking is a method for tracking an enterprise’s IT assets. IT asset tracking systems track the location and status of physical assets, like laptops, servers, smartphones, and peripherals, and virtual assets, like software, cloud infrastructure, and SaaS licenses. IT asset tracking helps enterprises control costs, improve employee productivity, and deliver better security and compliance.

IT asset tracking is considered a part of IT asset management (ITAM), a broader discipline that covers how enterprises manage the entire lifecycle of IT assets. This covers everything from asset procurement to employee onboarding, to patching and maintenance, to auditing and compliance, and, finally, to retirement. In asset tracking, IT teams track physical devices by scanning barcodes or by using RFID or GPS tags that broadcast location data. IT teams also use SSO or software agents to track usage and ownership of non-physical assets like software, SaaS and cloud servers.

In this article, we will cover all aspects of IT asset tracking, from how it works to its benefits and disadvantages to best practices. Specifically, we will cover:

  • What is Asset tracking?
  • The Importance of  Asset Tracking
  • Asset tracking vs Inventory Management
  • Technologies involved in Asset tracking
  • How does it work
  • Benefits/Advantages 
  • Best practices in IT Asset tracking
IT Asset Management Best Practices

What is IT Asset Tracking?

Asset tracking management solutions capture and store information about IT assets. This allows an enterprise to track the location, status, and ownership of an asset. Asset tracking is a core functionality of IT asset managers (ITAMs), a category of products specifically designed to track, analyze, and manage the lifecycle and security of IT assets. Asset tracking also includes software asset management (SAM) and cloud asset tracking.

The two basic types of IT asset tracking are “presence-based” and “usage-based.” Presence-based inventory management, also known as physical or material tracking, is usually reserved for assets with short life cycles such as paper documents. Usage-based management uses software tools to track what employees are doing on a given computer.

  • Improved asset condition monitoring management
  • Cost control, cost reduction and spend optimization
  • Improved asset compliance for audits and security
  • Faster security and incident response times
  • Better visibility into the disposition and use of IT assets
  • More accurate planning and forecasting of IT asset needs
  • Premium onboarding for new hires by ensuring all assets are secured and ready before their first day of work
  • Better compliance with regulations and certifications
  • Improved measurement of metrics and accountability for performance

Asset tracking vs. inventory management

Asset tracking is different from inventory management in several respects. Asset tracking involves tracking the location, ownership, and status of assets over the course of their life cycle. For example, asset tracking software can be used to monitor the location of assets by sending notifications when the device moves outside a predefined area. Asset management tools track inventories through their full life cycle, which includes not only their physical and digital properties but also aspects such as warranties and financial value.

Inventory management can be a feature of asset tracking or it can be a separate system that only looks at the levels of inventory of any IT asset. Inventory management applies only to physical assets and not virtual assets such as cloud servers. However, software and SaaS licenses are often treated the same as physical inventory, with finite numbers available due to purchasing contracts and licensing agreements. In general, inventory management is focused only on optimizing the use of IT assets rather than other aspects that benefit employee experience and HR, IT security, legal and compliance, and finance and procurement teams. Inventory management is more about counting and moving inventory and less about making it easier for employees to get the assets they need, helping finance and compliance teams ensure those assets are in compliance, and assisting security teams in ensuring that assets are secured, patched and encrypted.
Best Practices
7 Best Practices for Asset Management
Learn more about Oomnitza’s approach to providing  a single pane view across your entire IT estate.

How does IT asset tracking work?

IT asset tracking, also known as ITAM, is a process that enables an enterprise to track the location and status of its physical and non-physical assets. Physical assets are devices such as computers, servers or laptops that need to be tracked for insurance purposes. Non-physical assets include software like cloud services and SaaS applications, which may not have any physical form but still need monitoring.

Until recently, asset tracking focused primarily on physical products or installed software. Today, because so much more infrastructure and functionality is now running in virtual realms – either cloud or SaaS – newer tracking systems include the capability to track and monitor SaaS and cloud infrastructure. IT asset tracking works differently for hardware and software products. It may use multiple layers of tracking, depending on the asset. Some asset tracking systems are “agentless”. They work by aggregating data from existing asset tracking systems to create a unified asset database that is more accurate and up-to-date.

Broadly speaking there are two types of IT asset tracking systems – passive and active. Passive IT asset tracking systems pull in information broadcast automatically via software agents or asset tags. There is no need for the owner of these assets or IT staff to do anything. The assets automatically send out key telemetry detailing their location and status. Active IT asset tracking systems rely on humans to scan or input data about an asset. Some systems combine active and passive mechanisms, depending on the activity or the input workflow.

Hardware Asset Tracking

For hardware, an IT administrator might scan a barcode or MAC address on a laptop prior to sending the device to a user. The laptop is associated with a record of its purchase date, warranty information and installed software. More modern IT asset tracking systems can be integrated with procurement systems and the shipping databases of IT resellers such as CDW or SHI. This integration allows a laptop or other piece of hardware to arrive with all information pre-populated in the enterprise purchaser’s database and a barcode or asset tag is already affixed. When the device is scanned after it is unboxed, this activates the now complete asset records and changes the status in the asset tracking system.

IT asset tracking also deploys software agents on more expensive hardware, such as laptops, servers or mobile divides. These agents running on the laptop may send data back to the IT team about whether the laptop is properly encrypted and patched, as well as where it might be located based on IP address usage. In most cases, the laptop is associated with a specific user via the enterprises’ employee directory or HR system. If there is a problem with the laptop, the asset might alert IT asset managers and the support desk so they can open a ticket and resolve the issue.

Software Asset Tracking

For traditional licensed software, IT asset tracking is usually included in a category of products called Software Asset Managers (SAM). Asset tracking systems for software can also be active or passive. In addition, many broadly targeted asset tracking systems have manual entry formats for installed software. More advanced systems use agents on devices or services to identify what software is running on what device, whether it is licensed, and whether that user is out of compliance. Identifying overages in licenses used or when licenses will expire is crucial. These agents run periodic scans to identify newly installed software and compare its license data to the existing databases of purchased software licenses and permitted users. Large software vendors actively seek violations so they can leverage expensive “true-ups” against non-compliant enterprises.

Software License Tracking

Cloud Asset Tracking and SaaS Asset Tracking

Often a third IT asset tracking system is deployed to monitor virtual and SaaS assets. This system is usually a passive data collector that automatically captures usage, location and security data for virtual assets. Virtual assets might include cloud servers located either in public or private clouds or assets running on VPCs or other hosted servers not owned by the enterprise. SaaS products include the growing array of services for graphics and creativity (Adobe, Figma), office productivity (Office365 or G Suite), or financial functions (Expensify for expense tracking). For cloud assets and SaaS licenses, asset tracking systems pull information from single-sign-on systems or other authentication systems. Alternatively, they may receive information from agents included in the standard builds of all cloud servers. This is particularly important when cloud servers are frequently shut down and relaunched. Older IT asset management tracking systems tuned only for physical assets often struggle to adapt to this modern world of high-velocity, permanently ephemeral cloud infrastructure.

What technologies are involved in asset tracking?

Asset tracking uses multiple technologies to automate the process. Barcodes, RFID tags, software agents, and MAC addresses are all used in different capacities to track physical IT assets. IT teams may also use barcode scanners, tablets, and mobile apps to check in assets in the field. A core part of any asset tracking system is a database of all asset records.

Hardware asset tracking, of laptops, mobile devices, and servers, is often automated through the use of tags and sensors. Tags are usually electronic devices that track a device’s location and broadcast this information to an RFID reader, which may be mounted on the asset itself or located elsewhere in the environment where it can access all tagged assets within range. Sensors also communicate with RFIDs but function as standalone entities rather than broadcasting their findings. As more and more devices become connected via the Internet of Things, asset tracking has expanded to include peripherals such as monitors, keyboards, headsets, and video conferencing systems.

Software assets are tracked by analyzing how many copies of a piece of software is running on company servers and laptops. Cloud assets are tracked by inserting software agents into the container or virtual machine images. SaaS assets are tracked with software agents and single-sign-on systems or employee directors such as ActiveDirectory.

What are the benefits and advantages of IT Asset tracking?

IT assets are among the most costly line items for any modern company, running into the thousands of dollars per employee per year. As digital transformation has shifted more and more processes and work from physical (paper) to virtual and digital, IT assets have become more important in helping companies produce products or services. With this transformation, digital attacks have increased and securing IT assets has become a crucial part of keeping a business running safely. Internally, IT teams struggle to identify and manage unauthorized “shadow IT”. For companies wishing to give employees a better experience, efficient IT asset tracking can reduce time wasted on support tasks and enhance employee up time.

An asset tracking database is an important tool for managing the hardware refresh cycles, facilitating audit, providing better security and ensuring compliance with regulations. Overall, asset tracking databases offer benefits to IT teams, security teams, finance and procurement teams, legal and compliance teams, and HR teams. Lastly, asset management software helps enterprises to ensure compliance with regulations such as SOC2, ISO 27001, GDPR, and CCPA. Asset management software is often used to track the life cycle of IT assets. This includes laptops, desktops, mobile devices, network equipment and data center components.

IT Asset Tracking Best Practices

Following best practices is crucial to maximizing an enterprise’s ability to track IT assets effectively and accurately. Some best practices for IT asset tracking, starting from scratch, include:

1.

Identify the problems you want to solve with IT asset tracking

Do you want to help HR onboard employees faster? Help your IT team work more efficiently and eliminate repetitive tasks? Help your security team improve response times and reduce the number of assets out of compliance? Various asset tracking products have different features and strengths for each of these questions.

This will inform your product selection and implementation. Figure out whether you want to track hardware, software, cloud, SaaS or peripherals – or all of the above. Not all asset tracking tools can handle all types equally well. Knowing your needs here will improve your asset tracking process and product selection.

2.

Perform a comprehensive audit of the types of assets you wish to track

This will inform your product selection and implementation. Figure out whether you want to track hardware, software, cloud, SaaS or peripherals – or all of the above. Not all asset tracking tools can handle all types equally well. Knowing your needs here will improve your asset tracking process and product selection.

2.

Perform a comprehensive audit of the types of assets you wish to track

This will inform your product selection and implementation. Figure out whether you want to track hardware, software, cloud, SaaS or peripherals – or all of the above. Not all asset tracking tools can handle all types equally well. Knowing your needs here will improve your asset tracking process and product selection.

3.

Map out asset life cycles
Knowing the different segments of your asset life cycle allows you to set up the right process for managing each stage and for indicating asset status in dashboards and reports.
Understanding the workflows and required steps in each process dependent on asset tracking will allow you to design a system or set of processes that meet the needs of all stakeholders. Visual models of workflows work best.

4.

Map out workflows for required processes
Understanding the workflows and required steps in each process dependent on asset tracking will allow you to design a system or set of processes that meet the needs of all stakeholders. Visual models of workflows work best.

4.

Map out workflows for required processes
Understanding the workflows and required steps in each process dependent on asset tracking will allow you to design a system or set of processes that meet the needs of all stakeholders. Visual models of workflows work best.

5.

Identify integration requirements
To maximize the benefits of any asset tracking system, it must be tightly integrated with other systems. These may include IT ticketing (Jira, Zendesk, ServiceNow), security and response (Palo Alto Networks), endpoint management (Tanium), SSOs, and employee directory services (Okta, ActiveDirectory, G Suite), and ERP tools (Oracle, NetSuite). Knowing where you want to integrate will ensure that you can design a solution for best practices.
This is where you get the real feedback on whether what you have in mind works well – and how to tweak it based on feedback from future users.

6.

Test your model with a lightweight / partial deployment
This is where you get the real feedback on whether what you have in mind works well – and how to tweak it based on feedback from future users.

6.

Test your model with a lightweight / partial deployment
This is where you get the real feedback on whether what you have in mind works well – and how to tweak it based on feedback from future users.
Even if you have an existing IT asset tracking system, if you follow these steps you will be able to identify areas for improvement and ways to work better within that system. If you want to put in place an entirely new system that fully integrates all tracking of all asset types and easily connects to other systems via API or connectors, then following these steps will radically improve chances of a successful deployment and of high adoption.

Oomnitza’s Unique Benefits for IT Asset Tracking

Oomnitza is the most modern and advanced IT asset tracking system for enterprise on the market today. It is designed for flexibility, agility and extensibility. Lightweight and agentless, Oomnitza requires no modifications to your IT infrastructure. With dozens of pre-baked connectors to key IT systems for ticketing, SSO, and asset monitoring, Oomnitza simplifies and improves asset tracking by automating many repetitive tasks and boosting data accuracy and recency. Some specific features and benefits of Oomnitza include:

Integrated design

Integrated designed to work as an overlay atop other asset management systems and integrate their data into a single uniform golden database. Maps data fields automatically to generate flexible schemas that future-proof your asset tracking and allow for easy inclusion of new data sources, asset types and fields

Full asset lifecycle management

Full asset lifecycle management covers the full spectrum from automatically ingesting and populating asset data via vendor API to onboarding to servicing and refresh to retirement

Accurate

Accurate reconciles and dedupes all asset data to provide an accurate and timely view of assets tracked including owner, location, security status, and service status

Agentless

Agentless captures integrates data from existing asset management systems without installing new agents on devices or assets

Platform agnostic

Platform agnostic works equally well to track all types of assets including hardware, software, cloud infrastructure and SaaS. Also works on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and ChromeOS systems.

Flexible workflows

Flexible workflows allows anyone to set up multi-step asset tracking workflows across multiple systems to automate or enforce process

Extensible

Extensible aside from dozens of built-in connectors, Oomnitza’s API is Python-based and easy to extend into other systems that have their own REST APIs

Configurable

Configurable makes it easy to quickly generate beautiful reports for KPIs and monitoring, and equally easy to set up new reports