In a perfect world, maintaining IT assets would entail faultless consistency: reliable hardware, software and support services, a trusted team in place that would optimize integration and functionality through each asset's lifecycle, and the chairman of the board's slap on the back for bringing IT spending in-once again-under budget.Dennis Callahan, CIO of Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, knows that there is no such thing as a "perfect world." He might even go so far as to say that the only consistent thing in life is change. Callahan just wants to make sure that Guardian Life's IT asset management initiative represents positive change for the 145 year-old New York-based mutual life insurance company.

Management of Guardian's life, disability, health and dental insurance, 401K plans, and trust services products requires more than 8,000 IT assets spread across 60 locations. It follows that Callahan understood the scope of the project at the onset, as well as the business drivers necessary to plot the course.

"Initially, the plan was to reduce costs through improved hardware and software management," says Callahan. "We saw this as an opportunity to maximize PC and software utilization by dynamically redeploying these resources across the company."

More attention to lifecycle

Gartner Research, Stamford, Conn., estimates that the costs to maintain IT assets in operational mode (including hardware, software and support services) represent 40% to 60% of an organization's overall IT operations budget.

"Not long ago, IT asset management primarily involved acquiring hardware and software; little attention was paid to managing assets through their life cycle," says Alvin Park, research vice president at Gartner. "Due to the complexity and cost of IT systems, and the implications these systems have on other parts of an organization, asset management has become a strategic cornerstone for many companies. This broadened scope of responsibility raises many issues, however, such as determining to whom the IT procurement function should report."

For Guardian, it was a no-brainer. With 5,000 employees, 2,900 financial representatives, and more than 80 agencies nationwide all requiring efficient technology, the company decided the project warranted creation of a new business area-IT Asset Management (ITAM)-the manager of which reported to both sides of the business, the IT CFO and chief of staff.

Callahan's team defined ITAM's scope using a matrix with asset types along the farthest left rows (i.e., PC, server, printer, etc.) and agreed-upon lifecycle stages across the top (i.e., requisition, procurement, receipt, deployment, management, decommission, disposal).

"We limited the list of assets to those with clear benefits worth managing," recalls Callahan. "Using this matrix, we subsequently identified lifecycle owners and their associated procedures (including policies) for the assets in question."

The team then targeted areas with limited or no procedures in place. Specifically, they looked for policy management/enforcement, standardization efforts, and asset tracking practices.

"We had a small team and needed a solution that would give us a quick return of investment and close the gap in our lifecycle management processes," says Callahan. "So we completed a rigorous proof of concept, with very detailed requirements, which resulted in a match to our automated solution."

Guardian ultimately enlisted the support of Opsware, a Sunnyvale, Calif., provider of IT automation and utility computing software. Opsware automates the complete IT lifecycle and delivers utility computing by enabling IT to automatically provision, patch, configure, secure, change, scale, audit, recover, consolidate, migrate, and reallocate servers and applications.

For Guardian, Opsware will manage application rollouts and upgrades, new deployments, and generate detailed financial planning and budgeting reports.

Keeping tabs on the tab

The overall reporting aspects of the software enabled Guardian to improve enforcement of policies and standards as well as more accurate allocation of expense to the businesses.

"It's been a critical component in providing the knowledge we need to put us in the best negotiating position with our vendors," Callahan says. "Hundreds of requisitions for nonstandard equipment (lacking price protection) have been turned away and revised to meet our standards."

Guardian also implemented a very strict multi-bid process to keep vendor pricing competitive. "We go into hardware and software negotiations with vendors knowing exactly what our volumes are, so we don't over-buy or over-pay," Callahan says. "The software paid for itself within 10 months of deployment once we coupled it with supporting IT asset management procedures."

Callahan expects there will be additional benefits around security and risk management, especially in the areas of contingency planning, disaster recovery, and patch and virus management.

And if time really is money, Guardian has a lock on saving both. "Developing lifecycle policies, standards, & procedures took less time than we thought," reports Callahan. "And it takes minutes (vs. hours or days) to run reports for major IT activities, such as application rollouts/upgrades, virus management, and patch management."

Although the story sounds like a "perfect world" scenario so far, there is a down side to report: implementing the processes across a 600-employee IT organization, as well as Guardian's various lines of business, posed significant challenges and required a strong communication/training plan.

Dynamic changes in the business climate will deliver more of the same challenges in the future, notes Gartner's Parker. "IT asset managers will have to count on two certainties: increased configurational complexity and expanded management responsibilities."

Callahan seems resigned to the consistent ebb and flow of IT, ready for any potential challenges, and poised to turn them into opportunities. "We don't expect the same robust ROI in future years given that our new policies, processes, and standards are already in production," he says. "But we now have a chance to allocate resources from our IT asset management area to support other challenges, such as configuration management, O/S migration, IMAC (installation, move, add, change) and break-fix."

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