Automation begins with keeping track of your assets
Knowledge is power
Automating effectively requires you to know what is connected to your network and what patches it needs, and to be able to push patches on to the right device at the right time.
Before you can manage anything, you need to know what hardware and software you have and where it is. Then you need to take control of it, remotely and automatically.
Asset management is not just about checking whether you still have all the PCs you expect to have or whether you have the right number of licences (although that is worth doing, if only to check you are not paying for more licences than you need).
Knowing me, knowing you
It is also about knowing what you have to work with. You can’t really take control of the desktops in your business if you don’t and it is much easier to argue the case for more resources when you can show what they are for.
If you are planning an upgrade to Windows 7, as many businesses are this year, knowing what apps you need to support is as important as knowing what hardware is on desks.
Once you know what software and systems are in your business, you may be able to retire the ones that are used the least, reduce your support burden and make users happier because you can concentrate on the programs they rely on most.
You may be surprised by what you find. According to Forrester, the average IT organisation is trying to support 215 applications. The usual ratio is ten to one. That means 100 applications per thousand users that you have to test for compatibility, deploy, maintain, patch and support.
That is just counting the applications you know about officially. Forrester’s survey puts the average number of applications on a corporate PC at 16, plus what users install themselves.
There is a data security issue if business information is ending up in file formats you don’t know about. They might not be licensed, or you might be able to save money with a site licence for popular tools that are currently being charged on expenses.
And if they are really useful you will end up having to support them at some point, so better to know about them in advance.
The consumerisation of IT, the amount of time users and their laptops spend out of the office and the way licence programs only seem to get more complex mean that asset management is increasingly important.
And what you really want is a system that integrates with your monitoring, configuration and updating tools, not something separate.
You might be able to save money with a site licence for popular tools being charged on expenses
If you are already using Microsoft's Desktop Optimization Pack for error monitoring and group policy management, and especially if you are planning to use it for application virtualisation, it makes sense to use the Asset Inventory Service  (AIS) as well.
It runs as a cloud service so you don’t need to set up servers, it doesn’t get in the way of what users are doing on their PCs, and it can match up your inventory with its knowledge base of business applications and Microsoft volume licence agreements.
You get useful reports from AIS, but if you want more detailed information, the Asset Intelligence  in System Center Configuration Manager gives you a lot more options.
It doesn't just tell you what applications are installed and which licences are in use but what time of day the software is being used and how many people use the application concurrently.
It can suggest who is using a PC most, even if it is not officially assigned to them, track USB devices as well as software, and alert you as soon as unauthorised software is installed. That is the same System Center you will be using to monitor problems, set configurations and push out updates.
How much freedom you allow users with software is up to your business, but knowing what is out there is the only way to enforce whatever policy you have decided on. ®