IT asset management (ITAM), including software asset management (SAM), has long been neglected within IT service management (ITSM). However, ITAM adoption has grown in popularity in recent years, with IT organizations finally waking up to the fact that they have asset-based waste. Whether this is:

  • Unnecessary procurement costs
  • Extraneous third-party support and maintenance costs
  • “Shelf-ware” – which include software-as-a-service or cloud costs
  • Internally maintaining assets that should have been “decommissioned.”

But this is just the financial waste view, with software compliance still important, especially because software vendors might increase software audits with new sales revenues suffering due to the adverse financial impact of the global pandemic.

If you’re new to the world of ITAM, then this page will provide you with at least 80% of what you need to know in less than 20% of the time needed to piece it together yourself. Very much in line with the Pareto Principle where, for many outcomes, 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes.

What is ITAM?

ITIL – the most popular body of service management best practices – defines the purpose of ITAM as: “…to plan and manage the full lifecycle of all IT assets, to help the organization:

  • Maximize value
  • Control costs
  • Manage risks
  • Support decision-making about the purchase, re-use, retirement, and disposal of IT assets
  • Meet regulatory and contractual requirements.”

What ITAM Isn’t

There are two key points here. First, that ITAM needs to be focused, and well-scoped, given that most organizations will find it financially prohibitive to try to manage every corporate IT asset. Second, the view that ITAM is a one-and-done project.

  • Don’t try to manage everything. Your organization won’t have unlimited funding for its ITAM practice, so there’s a need to focus on what’s most important to your organization. Likely providing IT services at an acceptable cost with a tolerable level of risk – mitigating risk rather than trying to eliminate it.
  • Recognize that ITAM “is a journey, not a destination.” Your organization’s IT asset estate will be in a constant state of change. Thus the need for ITAM will be ever-present and the ITAM goalposts will always be moving as the asset estate and external factors, such as licensing models, continue to change.

The Different “Flavors” of ITAM

When people think of ITAM, they might only think of a particular “flavor.” For example, their organization might need to respond to a forthcoming software-vendor audit visit, or the findings of an audit, and are thus looking at ITAM through a Software Asset Management (SAM) lens. But there are many flavors of ITAM that need to be considered when setting or extending the scope of an ITAM practice.

The common asset “flavors” are:

  • Software assets: this is the software installed on both physical hardware, including mobile devices, and virtual machines (VMs) across all environments – development, test, staging, production, training, and third-party cloud environments. This will include operating systems, middleware, server applications, and personal applications.
  • Hardware assets: the most visible of these are end-user devices, such as PCs and Macs, smartphones, tablets, and any peripherals that are placed in scope. Then there’s data center hardware. For example, servers, storage, and uninterruptible power supplies. Plus, there’s network and telecoms equipment such as routers, load balancers, switches, and VoIP/videoconferencing equipment too.
  • Cloud-based assets: while cloud services are provided/managed by third parties, there are still customer ITAM obligations and needs. First, using software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) capabilities doesn’t absolve the customer organization of software licensing responsibilities. Second, cloud services/subscriptions – like software – need to be regularly assessed to see if the business value being created is higher than the cost. Or, as with other financially-focused ITAM activities if it’s a waste that can be eliminated.
  • Data assets: protecting corporate data against leaks and cyberattacks, and complying with data-related regulations.
ITIL processes

ITAM vs. ITSM

ITAM and ITSM have traditionally been treated as separate IT management disciplines but there has always been some overlap between them. For example, IT assets are employed in the delivery of IT services and cloud (IT) services can be managed as IT assets. And in 2019, ITAM was added to the ITIL 4 ITSM/service management best practice guidance as one of its 34 management practices. Importantly, both IT management disciplines have similar, if not common, goals – better business operations and outcomes.

In terms of the key differences (between ITAM and ITSM):

  • Assets are generally different from services. For example, a desktop PC is different from a managed desktop service.
  • The bodies of best practice guidance, for ITAM and ITSM, have traditionally been created by different organizations (until ITIL 4 offered ITAM guidance to service management professionals).
  • Organizations that have adopted both have kept them as two separate ecosystems – one that’s focused on assets and one that’s focused on services, but hopefully with cooperation and collaboration at the points where the two disciplines overlap.

Despite these differences, ITAM and ITSM should be viewed as complementing each other rather than competing. Especially because IT services are commonly built from IT assets.

How ITAM Will Enable Your Organization – the Benefits of ITAM

As highlighted in the ITIL 4 definition, ITAM will help your organization to:

  • Maximize value
  • Control costs
  • Manage risks
  • Support decision-making about the purchase, re-use, retirement, and disposal of IT assets
  • Meet regulatory and contractual requirements.”

For many organizations, the primary motivation for ITAM, and SAM in particular, is financial – reducing asset costs and/or optimizing asset use – with the latter increasingly being linked with value creation. Accurate asset data not only drives better financial decision-making, but also facilities other ITSM capabilities such as incident, problem, change, and capacity management. For example, ITAM can help IT service providers to deliver better IT services and support to employees and external customers while helping businesses to better use technology assets as both an enabler and competitive differentiator.

Software assets bring with them the need for license compliance – ensuring all software installs are appropriately licensed where needed and license agreements are complied with. Plus, ITAM capabilities allow organizations to be better prepared for software vendor audits (and to fare better in them too).

It can also help individuals to discharge their responsibilities more efficiently and effectively – by providing defined responsibilities and better ways of working (that employ industry best practices) that are enabled by what have been termed “ITAM tools” – software solutions that digitally enable the key ITAM processes as well as holding key asset data.

How ITAM and ITSM are Better Together

ITAM and ITSM complement each other rather than compete and, in many scenarios, they enhance each other. Hence, it’s better for organizations to plan for, and to encourage, them to work in tandem.

For example, organizations that have yet to, or have no ambition to, introduce a configuration management database (CMDB), ITAM capabilities and data can fulfill several ITSM needs that service configuration management capabilities would otherwise support.

One example of this is asset data quality improvement. Where data from IT service desk transactions can provide data for IT assets that haven’t recently been picked up by network scanning tools, including the user/ownership and the use cases. Process integration also helps to ensure ITAM data accuracy. Because incident management, service request management, and change management/enablement all either add to, reduce, or change IT assets.

A reverse example is using ITAM data to improve incident resolution times. Where a service desk analyst can understand the root cause and potential remedies for an issue more quickly when they have insight into the asset’s details.

There are higher-level opportunities too. For example, employees can self-audit their IT assets using the IT self-service portal. Or, ITAM data can be leveraged to help technology refresh projects go more smoothly, particularly if there's not an effective CMDB in place.

The Relevance of ITIL to ITSM Tools

The Many Sources of ITAM Best Practice

As with ITSM, there are various sources of ITAM best practice. Some of these have been written with an ITSM audience in mind. For example, the inclusion of ITAM in ITIL 4 via the IT asset management practice described earlier.

Some have been created from a governance perspective. For example, COBIT – “A framework for the governance and management of enterprise information and technology (I&T), aimed at the whole organization” – has a management practice for Managed Assets that helps organizations to: “Manage I&T assets through their lifecycle to make sure that their use delivers value at optimal cost, they remain operational (fit for purpose), and they are accounted for and physically protected. Ensure that those assets that are critical to support service capability are reliable and available. Manage software licenses to ensure that the optimal number are acquired, retained and deployed in relation to required business usage, and the software installed is in compliance with license agreements.”

Finally, some ITAM best practices are aimed at ITAM professionals. There are multiple international standards, the main one of which is ISO/IEC 19770-1 which “specifies the requirements for the establishment, implementation, maintenance and improvement of a management system for IT asset management (ITAM), referred to as an “IT asset management system” (ITAMS).”

Additional ISO documents related to ITAM include:

  • ISO/IEC 19770-2 which relates to software identification tags
  • ISO/IEC 19770-3 which relates to software entitlements, including usage rights, limitations, and metrics
  • ISO/IEC 19770-4 which relates to Resource Utilization Measurement
  • ISO/IEC 19770-5 which is a free standard that provides an overview of the standards and vocabulary.

There are also various bodies that offer ITAM best practice guidance. Examples are:

  • ITAMOrg – a “global membership organization of IT Asset Management Professionals.”
  • IAITAM – “professional association for individuals and organizations involved in any aspect of ITAM, SAM, Hardware Asset Management and the lifecycle processes supporting ITAM in organizations of every size and industry across the globe.”

Finally, organizations might be using elements of ITAM best practice without knowing that it comes from these or other approaches. It’s simply the way that things have been done, perhaps for many years, including best practices that are embedded with ITAM tools.

How to Start with ITAM

A common piece of advice, no matter the context, is to start at the beginning. In many ways, this is highly applicable to ITAM – with much of the foundational early work (and investment) critical to the success of the later operational ITAM activities. Importantly, this foundational work applies to organizations even before they decide on investing in an ITAM tool. It will help decide not only the need for an ITAM tool but also the capabilities that are required of it.

  • Understand your organization’s need for ITAM: Here it’s important to appreciate the many roles ITAM capabilities can play and the benefits that are realized as a result. This will guide the creation of your ITAM capability and the people/teams that you need to involve in setting up your organization’s initial ITAM capabilities. For example, ITAM can be used to: protect company assets from loss, ensure compliance with software licensing agreements and legislation, support the IT service desk and its remediation and provisioning activities, identify assets that need replacing (or potentially “sweating” to garner greater value from them), negotiate better sourcing deals, invoke third-party support and maintenance agreements when needed, save money, and inform project-based decision making.”
  • “Start where you are.”: If you’re familiar with the ITIL 4 best practice service management guidance, then you’ll recognize that this is borrowed from ITIL 4’s seven Guiding Principles. It means there’s no need to start from scratch with ITAM, with there likely many existing helpful activities and information sources available to leverage for your initial ITAM needs. For example, there might already be an Excel or Google Sheets list of hardware somewhere in the organization. Or the IT service desk might record asset details while delivering support or provisioning services. Or network scanning tools might be recording the assets on the network and who’s using them.
  • Agree on the initial ITAM scope and focus: ITAM can be the proverbial “boiling the ocean.” So, identify what will deliver the best business benefits out of the potentially long list of opportunities. For example, if your organization is looking to reduce IT asset costs in the short term, then there’s the opportunity to use ITAM to prevent expenditure on new assets unless absolutely necessary.
  • Quickly pull together an initial asset inventory: ITAM success will rely on your organization having a trusted source of IT asset information. So, start by finding existing asset inventories/registers. These will likely be incomplete and inaccurate but it’s a good start. For example, leveraging network monitoring data if available. Because this not only shows the assets being used on the network but also by whom.
  • Target quick wins: For example, identifying underused assets for redistribution – which could be underused software or where some employees have multiple devices when they don’t need them. Or there might also be issues with your organization’s leavers procedures, such that IT assets aren’t collected from employees when they leave.
  • Use agreed-on metrics to measure success: So, what will define your ITAM investments as successful? And how can you measure performance against these “critical success factors”? This will likely involve financial savings, but it can also involve other factors such as greater efficiency (perhaps in IT support), improved governance and compliance, or improved employee experiences and productivity – where employees are better equipped to do their jobs.
How ITIL will enable your organization

What to Look for in an ITAM Tool

 What to Look for in an ITAM Tool

The need for, and benefits of, ITAM tools relate to how technology can help ITAM practices to operate in an optimized manner across all three of “better, faster, cheaper.” A key element of this is how ITAM processes can be automated as digital workflows, but there’s so much more to look for too. For example:

Inventory management

Software and hardware discovery and inventory tools and the storing of discovered data.

Application recognition

The ability to analyze the data collected from registry entries relative to a known application library/database.

Software reconciliation and license compliance

This is matching software install volumes to license purchases. Where there’s likely the need to handle a variety of licensing entitlement types and usage rights.

License optimization

This is both contract and vendor management capabilities plus understanding the usage of individual applications across the user base to identify underused installs, i.e. software wastage.

Software management

Capabilities such as the identification of unauthorized applications, which can be prevented from launching or automatically removed. Or automated provisioning of software.

Reporting and audit

Reports and alerts that relate to contract renewals, software usage trends, license compliance, unauthorized software, and saving opportunities. These reports should also support compliance needs such as software vendor audits or internal risk and liability assessments.

In addition to the above ITAM capabilities, an ITAM tool also needs to play nicely with other IT and business tools and systems. So, don’t overlook the required integrations with other applications. An obvious integration is with the corporate ITSM tool or the corporate finance or ERP system.

Enterprise Service Management Offers Additional ITAM Use Cases

Some organizations have long known that certain IT management capabilities are also beneficial to other parts of the organization such as human resources (HR), customer service/support, facilities, finance, legal, procurement, and security teams. The IT industry has termed “enterprise service management” – where ITSM capabilities are extended to other business functions to improve their services, operations, experiences, and outcomes – with this including ITAM capabilities too.

2021 research highlighted that asset management is the third most commonly shared ITSM capability outside of IT as other business functions look to achieve one or more of:

  • Process standardization and optimization
  • Digital transformation enablement
  • Employee experience and productivity improvement

As well as greater control over their assets and what they cost.

The Four Dimensions of Service Management

Frequently Asked Questions

IT Asset Management is a process for capturing and managing all of a company’s IT assets.
IT Asset management software manages all IT assets available at a company, including all associated warranties.
IT asset management software helps to track and manage assets from acquisition to use and, ultimately, disposal. All departments have access to asset information such as cost, location and condition, depending on their authorization.
IT Asset Management software optimizes the lifecycle of an IT asset within the company. This is a cost-saving measure as well as an IT security one, making sure everything is properly optimized.

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