What is IT Asset Management? A Definitive Guide

IT asset management (ITAM) is the discipline of managing, monitoring, securing and orchestrating all technology assets owned or controlled by an organization. ITAM is critical for controlling costs, streamlining IT processes and procedures, fulfilling compliance and audit requirements and maintaining a strong security posture.

According to Gartner, “IT asset management (ITAM) provides an accurate account of technology asset lifecycle costs and risks to maximize the business value of technology strategy, architecture, funding, contractual and sourcing decisions.” ITAM is the responsibility of the IT team and the CEO but works closely with the finance and procurement, compliance, technology and security teams to deliver better business agility and performance. Increasingly, as IT and technology have become a core function critical to business strategy and execution and a growing cost center, well-executed ITAM has become a strategic imperative for enterprises.

To this end, ITAM incorporates many traditional IT functions including service and help desk, device and software maintenance, license and warranty monitoring, equipment refresh and more. ITAM plays a key role in service delivery, compliance and audit for important certifications (SOC2, ISO 2700, HIPAA), maintaining a strong security posture and rapid incident response, and delivering a seamless employee onboarding experience.

The scope of ITAM has grown with the scope of technology.ITAM originally focused on hardware and installed software but increasingly it covers the management of SaaS and cloud infrastructure assets. Over time, various sub-functions of ITAM have been stovepiped into their own categories including Software Asset Management (SAM), Mobile Device Management (MDM), Configuration Management Database (CMDB), Cloud Service Brokerage (CAM) and Universal Endpoint Management (UEM). You can also consider asset tracking, asset monitoring, asset inventory management, and asset compliance and security all as features and components of ITAM – each of which is often treated as a stand-alone product (and there are, in fact, stand-alone offerings on the market).

This comprehensive guide to ITAM will cover everything you need to know to compare, shop for, deploy and build a strategy around ITAM. The article will discuss:

  • The Importance of IT Asset Management
  • The Basics of the ITAM process
  • Benefits of IT Asset management
  • Best Practices of IT Asset Management
  • Challenges in IT Asset Management
  • IT asset management software

The Importance of IT Asset Management

ITAM is a crucial part of improving productivity, security, compliance, and employee experience for any enterprise with more than a few dozen employees. Effective ITAM is important for a wide variety of reasons.

Efficient asset management

ITAM is critical to keeping your asset management process efficient and streamlined. Managing IT assets out of a bunch of spreadsheets scales poorly and breeds inefficiencies. Modern ITAM systems can automate the discovery and management process to improve efficiency.

Risk reduction

To manage technology risk, you need to be able to instantly know who controls an asset, where the asset is located, and what is the security compliance status of an asset. Modern ITAM delivers on this promise and enables rapid lookups and automated tracking of all of these factors. This also powers faster security response and enables quick identification and investigation of anomalies such as executives not logging into their devices for a 48 hour period or cloud infrastructure assets showing up in different availability zones than previously.

Streamlined and pain-free employee onboarding

Today’s knowledge workers expect to receive all the hardware, software SaaS and cloud infrastructure they need to do their jobs from Day 1. Well-executed ITAM can deliver a premium onboarding experience by ensuring that hiring plans and dates map precisely to procurement and inventory so that each new hire gets exactly what they need when they need it. Smart ITAM can also automate workflows around this process so the creation of a new employee record in an HRIS system automatically kicks off a checklist of onboarding steps for provisioning and privileges that previously were manual.

Improved regulatory compliance and auditing

Performing IT audits and compliance checks is a complicated and time-consuming process that involves multiple steps and coordination across different teams. ITAM automates major portions of audits by automatically generating reports on asset location, status and owner, and by verifying the presence of compliance-critical measures such as encrypted hard drives or malware and antivirus protection on all endpoints in an ITAM database.

Improved financial controls and cost optimization

ITAM plays a key role in keeping a tight rein on IT spending and making sure that this growing area of spend is properly accounted for and optimized. ITAM provides visibility into how each area of IT is used, demand for different types of assets in software, hardware, SaaS and cloud infrastructure, and how well each spend area is utilized. This, in turn, helps CIOs, CFOs and COOs properly plan for the future and provide detailed analysis on IT consumption as part of the core metrics of how to improve productivity and workflows for the entire company.

To summarize, ITAM plays an important role across nearly all business functions, including IT, information security, legal and compliance, finance and operations and human resources. The role of ITAM is actually growing in importance as more and more what organizations do and more and more of their workflows move into the digital realm.

How the IT Asset Management Process Works

ITAM process flows span the lifecycle of every IT asset. The basics of the IT asset management lifecycle processes include:

  • Purchase of an asset or assets
  • Maintenance, upgrades, and repairs of the asset
  • Retirement of the asset

The cycle is often more abbreviated and rapid for non-capital purchases such as SaaS licenses or cloud infrastructure capacity. Here are the basic components of the ITAM process.
Procurement, receiving, deployment and instantiation
The ITAM process starts when an asset is purchased. Many ITAMs have REST APIs that allow manufacturers of hardware and devices to pre-populate entries in ITAM databases with all relevant asset information including serial number, MAC address, model, and processor type as soon as that asset leaves the factory or the loading dock. For software, IT teams or SAM systems can record or automatically enter any license information prior to installation. For SaaS products, the ITAM will record the permissible number or type of users permitted under a license after purchasing. For cloud infrastructure, ITAM will leverage agents or some other broadcast mechanism embedded in the container or virtual machine that indicates instantiation of a unique piece of cloud infrastructure. For older ITAM systems, the only way to enter information as part of this process is manually. Newer ITAM systems can automatically discover and ingest these important types of information.
Asset assignment
ITAM ensures that assets are assigned to individuals, units, locations, and usually a combination or all of the above. ITAMs are the primary repository of assignment information. With this information, IT, HR and security can all determine quickly who is responsible for every asset in the organization. That said, asset assignment isn’t perfect; invariably unassigned assets make it out of the storage closet. This is what Stage 3 is crucial.
IT Asset Management
Asset discovery
Discovery is a critical aspect of the ITAM process. ITAM solutions continuously monitor and look for information about assets present on enterprise networks or in use on devices or cloud infrastructure managed by the organization. Once an ITAM identifies all assets, it maps them back to known asserts in the ITAM database. If any assets appear that are not in the database, the ITAM flags those assets for further investigation. Discovery replaces older manual processes.. Having to manually add all new IT assets to your inventory is time-consuming, expensive, and error-prone. The best ITAM systems can discover new software assets and add them to your inventory automatically. They leverage agents from other related systems – SSO, employee directory, endpoint management, mobile device management, etc – to provide an agentless discovery solution that is flexible, lightweight and easy to extend to new data sources. The system will automatically discover new software apps on company-owned devices and help you track down any unlicensed software.
Tracking, Usage, Analytics and Reporting
Effective IT asset management requires monitoring, tracking, metrics and analytics metrics. A key part of the ITAM process is establishing a baseline of metrics and running repeated reports on the IT estate to enable proper Enterprise Technology Orchestration, inventory and usage. Common baseline metrics tracked include:

  • Number of IT assets (broken down by type)
  • Number of licenses (software and SaaS)
  • Number and size of cloud infrastructure components (cloud, CDN, etc)
  • Unused software licenses (shelfware)
  • Unused cloud infrastructure
  • Unlicensed software
  • Expired warranties on hardware

From this baseline, you can build out a richer set of ITAM metrics for analyzing how an organization is utilizing its IT assets. These secondary metrics might include:

  • Amount of time between asset purchase and deployment
  • Time to recycle software or hardware assets
  • Percentage of unauthorized or unassigned assets
  • Percentage of non-compliant unpatched, unsecured or unencrypted assets (security stance)
  • Consumption and usage statistics for assets (software, hardware)
  • SaaS and cloud infrastructure usage and consumption trends.

These metrics will allow you to generate a set of KPIs and goals for responsible teams and to track trends over time. By making these metrics visible and reportable, you can improve asset utilization and drive incentives and goals to align with the strategic needs of the IT organization and the enterprise as a whole.
Repair, Maintenance, Upgrades, Retirement
ITAM is the nerve center for maintaining the IT asset base of the enterprise, linking ticketing and service desk solutions to HR information systems and employee directories and automating workflows for repair, maintenance and upgrades. When an asset is ready to be retired, retirement is processed through the ITAM. Most IT organizations would be better off automating the workflows required for these ITAM processes and integrating all the required systems in order to reduce errors, improve efficiency and allow the IT team to focus on more complicated tasks.

Benefits of IT Asset Management

There are numerous clear and crucial benefits to ITAM. Running a tight ITAM ship can reduce costs, improve security, make an organization more agile and responsive, and enhance the employee experience.
A few of the specific benefits include:
  • 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

Best Practices of IT Asset Management

Enterprise IT teams should follow best practices to maximize their ability to manage IT assets effectively and accurately. Some best practices for IT asset management (and asset management IT), starting from pre-adoption:

1. Validate the problems you want to solve with ITAM.

Do you wish to empower your IT team to work more efficiently and reduce rote and repetitive tasks? Help your security team respond faster to incidents and increase the number of assets in compliance? Enable your HR and IT teams to onboard employees faster. Different ITAM products have different features and strengths for each of these questions.

2. Audit of the types of assets you wish to assign, monitor and manage.

This audit will shape your product selection based on different needs. Decide whether your enterprise needs to manage hardware, software, cloud, SaaS or peripherals - or all of the above. Different ITAMs handle different types with greater or lesser agility.

3. Map out workflows for required processes.

Understanding the workflows followed and identifying dependencies will allow you to whiteboard processes that best meet the needs of ITAM stakeholders. Visual models tend to best and can be mapped to workflow automations.

4. Decide integration requirements.

To be efficient, ITAMs must be tightly integrated with other systems such as 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 the integration points and requirements can help you plan implementation and select the best ITAM based on integration capabilities.

5. Test your model with a lightweight / partial deployment.

Deploy to get real feedback on whether the plan. The test is crucial for understanding what works and what doesn’t.

6. Establish a set of ITAM playbooks for key tasks and for key stakeholders.

The playbooks become the backbone of your ITAM practice. Refresh them every six months to ensure that they reflect the true state of ITAM and related systems.

Challenges in IT Asset Management

ITAM has grown more challenging in the last decade. The number of devices and assets under management has skyrocketed as enterprises have both more devices and more licensed pieces of software per employee. Ephemeral cloud infrastructure, which may involve hundreds of servers shutting on and off constantly, has injected a new degree of complexity. ITAM now must also manage entire new classes of connected devices and peripherals are part of IoT. For HR and IT departments, providing an excellent onboarding experience with easy processes to get everyone the IT they need is crucial to setting the right tone for new employees. Delivering streamlined and painless IT services for repairs, upgrades and new asset requests is also more important to CIOs and heads of HR than ever before. The number and complexity of regulations and compliance rule has made auditing and compliance checks a pain point that many older ITAM systems do not handle well. Lastly, the rise of ransomware and other critical security risks make securing and managing all endpoints even more essential. None of these challenges are appropriately addressed by legacy ITAM systems, in particular, IT asset management hardware capabilities designed for the era of physical inventory and before BYOD and WFH become commonplace.

IT Asset Management Software

There are dozens of ITAM software products on the market. Basic ITAM software functions as a slightly automated spreadsheet, with a plain vanilla UX and little automation capabilities. Free ITAM solutions deliver bare-bones functionality. Advanced ITAM software and solutions have intuitive user experience, flexible workflow automation and analytics as well as pre-configured connectors to external systems and APIs. Some key features that ITAM software should have include:

Automated asset data population :

populate asset information automatically into the ITAM based on transactional data collected from the vendor or ERP system.

Robust, agentless discovery :

find all software, hardware, SaaS and cloud infrastructure installed on enterprise assets and classify that software by publisher, type and license. It is best not to have to install an agent on all assets and instead to pull in the data via existing agents and systems.

Comprehensive license and warranty tracking :

show warranty status of hardware and available licenses of software compared to allocated licenses or licenses in the recycling process

Granular, accurate spend tracking :

monitor, analyze and analyze total IT spend (including authorized and unauthorized)

Continuous usage tracking :

monitor usage trends and surface consumption data with regular reports of dashboards interactive dashboards or regular reports. These reports can be used to project procurement needs and to create IT spend forecasts.

Asset query engine :

quickly find and ascertain the status, owner and location of any asset under management or in use on the network. This is critical for security response.

Asset reconciliation :

maintain accurate asset data by automatically comparing data across multiple ITAM sub-systems and deduping or highlighting assets lacking data

REST API :

a well-structured API to allow for your ITAM to import data or deliver data to external systems or partners and vendors.

Conclusion: Strong ITAM Improves Security and Employee Experience, Reduces Costs, and Makes Your Company More Productive

Hopefully, this primer provides a useful oversight of ITAM solutions including the benefits, processes, and desired capabilities. As the digital transformation shifts more and more business processes into technology, every enterprise will require an ITAM software solution. Mastery of ITAM will become a core competency and a distinction that separates the most efficient and agile enterprises from the rest of the pack.