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Setting a standard: the hunt for ITAM expertise

Organizational changes are common culture in today’s market. The main focus is to accomplish more with less and ITAM practices still need fine tuning in order to assess and measure their effectiveness if they want to be looked as an operational priority.

If you’re faced with constant changes in your company, very few people can see the impact of organizational changes unless it’s part of your duties or if you have expertise as a process analyst. A few years ago, I was asked if I could help hire our next team player that would take my position and my manager at the time was intrigued with my profile because she never hired a SAM portfolio manager. The idea of presenting several profiles seemed very beneficial during her research, but I soon informed her that SAM knowledge isn’t something you learn in college. Barely 15 years ago, ITAM wasn’t even considered a known profession but it was the IT manager’s or IT support’s responsibility to handle licensing demand. Manufacturer’s complex requirements have grown exponentially after each product release that clients simply didn’t have the ability to implement internal changes to practice effective ITAM.

Looking back, software manufacturers still dictate the market to this day. Many ITAM solutions have a hard time adjusting to sudden changes and this is normally synonym of product development.

Is it fair to compare ITAM in the same category as the social media industry? Both were relatively unknown professions back in the early 2000’s yet social media have generated exponential job growth and their practices are even taught and used as research papers in colleges. If ITAM can reverse the myth of doing things reactively instead of proactively, then it’s very possible to set that standard and be able to teach this profession in schools one day. Both professions have similarities in regards to the period they’ve emerged and how many jobs they’ve generated, although some would debate one is more emergent than the other.

Just take Walmart and look at how they handle supply chain management practices and impose all partners to adhere to their best practices in order to build partnerships. Very shrewd tactic some might say but essential in order to set a high standard. If a supplier wants to do business with Walmart, they should follow Walmart’s requirements, period. Now fast forward to ITAM: can you beat the market by implementing effective and proactive processes so that your practices will be considered industry leading out of so many clients, competitors and vendors? If the consensus is generally negative, there are a few ways you can achieve better than most with the right profiles. In order to effectively assess IAITAM’s 12 key process areas, I would generally focus on the following profiles: Inventory and warehousing expertise, resellers, purchasing, software asset managers, financial or accounting, business analyst, functional analyst and database analyst.

I’ve worked as a lone wolf early in my career where I was considered a “one man show” and many companies can relate to this situation. In order to suggest effective profiles in the ITAM industry, I soon realized being the only ITAM resource gives you an incredible amount of power which can be potentially dangerous for the company’s bottom line. As a hardware asset manager, if you handle assets, you should never handle or send out purchase orders manually. Let the purchasing approval process take its course independently and then manage the received asset separately. If you wear more than one hat in this specific case, the company becomes vulnerable to internal theft more so than they can imagine. Unless everyone’s professional integrity is assumed to be flawless, your hardware asset manager should be accountable for inventory movement at all times into what I like to call “control points”. Generally, an inventory or warehousing background is very relevant to this profession because they share similar profiles. Simply teach that resource relevant IT data requirements to manage your assets accordingly and you can now consider having an efficient entry level hardware asset manager.

Many past colleagues came from resellers or have a purchasing background. What I appreciate the most out of this profile is whenever SAM manufacturers release a new product, resellers are normally the first ones to receive that product training from the supplier. In order for them to sell something new before its release date, their PO system and knowledge base have to be ready well before clients start buying it. In order to evaluate a purchaser, if that resource has knowledge of manufacturer’s fiscal year end dates and can use this as leverage to negotiate contracts, I would definitely short list this candidate. If I really want to be impressed, I would ask that resource how category management can leverage our business decisions. If the answer goes along the way of assessing the products’ category performance according to a clear set of objectives, tactics and strategies, this amount of knowledge is critical for vendor management needs.

The Software Asset Manager’s (SAM) profile is a little more complex because it doesn’t come from one specific background. Through time, SAM is a practice that has been learned a little by either pure curiosity, by being unfortunately audited, learning how certain 3rd party firms apply licensing rules or either by your system administrators limited product knowledge. There isn’t a best background I can suggest although anyone with a legal, compliance, accounting or data mining expertise, I find it a great challenge to convince people with these profiles to change profession. In order to be able to evaluate your SAM analyst’s knowledge, I normally like to ask a set of simple to complex questions such as: explain the difference between recycling vs reharvesting licenses. Explain in details how much you know about Oracle core factor table, SQL Server licensing rules and IBM’s PVU/RVU table chart. By laying out a specific discovery output example in an Excel practice test and asking to quickly assess the data completeness, you’ll quickly establish how good this analyst really is when it comes down to producing compliance reports especially if they claim to be licensing experts. If you can intentionally sanitize discovery data in order to evaluate if the analyst will point out missing data, you can assume that data integrity is part of the verification steps that weren’t overlooked which is a great bonus. Many SAM analysts tend to forget duplicate data or inconsistent calculated data.

The importance of having a financial profile within your team has many advantages. You can have a perfect inventory but financial data records are an integral part of being properly audited and also to be able to budget and forecast efficiently. One of my clients decided to make it their very first priority before any other ITAM processes. Forget the compliance position, the lifecycle management, the disposal process; perfect financial visibility was their # 1 priority. The result: 99% accuracy with accounting and finance records at all times for all software maintenance contracts. Even Gartner was impressed when we asked them if this activity was well positioned within our priorities. The advantage of clearing financial records makes it easier to clean the inventory, remove duplicate data entries and also finding out if you’re paying more than you should for the same products or product category. The other main advantage of the financial background is mainly to have an influence within your organization. Let’s face it, numbers don’t lie and they always represent the bottom line. This profile would be better suited for anyone that’s responsible for budgeting, forecasting or for your IT Asset management director. Evaluating and assessing this profile is relatively straight forward. A candidate that emphasizes on caring about a budget as if it’s his own money, I would keep an eye on that one!

As for the business analyst, the main focus within this expertise is to evaluate if the analyst is able to document processes, improve them, find waste and being able to deliver better solutions to inefficient practices. If your candidate is 6Sigma certified combined with a business analyst background, I normally prefer these candidates to assess how effective each processes really cost. Review your processes at least once a year or run the risk of being outsourced if your team delivers relatively small financial results and barely any cost control measures.

If you’re not in the market to invest in ITAM solutions because of financial limitation but would like to develop in-house solutions, the functional analyst is one of the best profiles you can leverage because it translates business requirements into structured functions in a documented language that’s easy for any developer to use and code. Regardless if the final solution will be a program user interface or in Office Access, the importance of what the functional analyst accomplishes will normally handle the test of time much better than expected. The reason: developers’ that don’t document their code represent a sustainability issue for your in-house solution.

The functional analyst working alongside the database analyst or database administrator (DBA) is normally a good match because the DBA knows everything there is about managing data information. Having a data repository is one of the ITAM’s main requirements. Instead of doing everything in excel in a linear fashion with a countless amount of columns, the DBA can help you handling relational databases so that you won’t have to deal with very long spreadsheets to update manually. There are many limitations if your data isn’t normalized and a DBA knows how this information should be stored and managed regardless if you’re building a manual repository or using an expensive ITAM solution. The data foundation needs to be a very solid base.

Throughout the years, I was taught through ITAM practices that achieving operational excellence should focus mainly on people, process and tools. However, ITIL’s practices also mention the same but with a focus on the service design implementation phase where partners also play a vital role in a company’s deployed solution. Take a smartphone for example: the phone is the tool, the user is the “people” and the process is how the user should operate it. Can you still use this smartphone in 3 or 4 years if there weren’t any software upgrades or support by the manufacturer? Possibly, but considering a smartphones’ configuration in 2017, it might be in a limited or unsecured capacity. So if your candidate claims some ITIL principles should be followed in order to achieve operational excellence, he’s essentially right.

Categorizing these soft skills and evaluating them to fit business requirements is somewhat of a challenge. With so many unknowns and variables that might disrupt the industry in the next few years such as SaaS, cloud based licensing, IaaS or PaaS… most of them may already or will have an impact on your current practices. All of these aforementioned profiles combined with the ability to prepare for any new trends and using that expertise efficiently is how you can create a lasting standard. Be ahead of the game and re-assess your processes as many times as needed. Evaluating the right candidate is just as important as any other business decisions.

About Elie Baho

Elie Baho is the IT Asset Management Consultant for Baho Consultation, Inc.