How do you keep track of all the technology tools your organization uses? As an exercise, just try to list them. You've got laptops, desktops, monitors, printers, and phones. Maybe you've got servers and a Wi-Fi router. Can you also list the makes and models of each — and do you know how old they are and when they're likely to need replacing?
What about your software? Whether installed or in the cloud, you've got software for productivity, constituent management, presentations and video conferencing, accounts for social media, and more. Do you know how many licenses you have, or what the registration keys are?
The more technology becomes a part of our work, the more difficult it becomes to keep track of. However, by taking time to get organized, your organization can use its tech more effectively, save money, and better plan for the future.
Why Do Your Tech Assets Need Management?
When technology is functional, we tend not to think about it. But when it comes to work, an outage can quickly become a crisis. A crashed computer or busted router can derail staff and hinder efficiency.
Managing your organization's tech assets helps you know when hardware is reaching its end-of-life stage so you can plan to replace it before it stops working. Similarly, keeping track of software helps you plan for updates — especially when a major update might mean a change in how you work. For example, if you're running an older version of WordPress, an update might affect the design of your pages or their functionality. So you have to plan for how to update your website in a way that works well in the latest version without unplanned downtime.
Keeping track of your tech can help ensure that you have the right software licenses for staff. It can also prevent duplication — especially if individual staff members have the power to make tech decisions on their own. Does your organization need all of those computer monitors? Why are there three different Survey Monkey accounts? A process to avoid acquiring unneeded tools or to catch unnecessary expenses in your tech ecosystem can be a big benefit.
Managing your tech can also help you plan for the future. Do you hope to expand an existing program? Or is it time to streamline your organization to focus on what you do best? By inventorying and managing your tech assets, you can figure out whether you already have the number of software licenses or user accounts that you need, or whether you need to invest in new tools. It makes budgeting easier and also helps you imagine the realities of what it will take to pull off that bold new idea.
Let's take a look at what it takes to manage your technology assets effectively.
Take an Inventory
Start by getting to know what hardware and software your organization currently owns. In general, your hardware inventory should list the type and model, how old it is, and who it's assigned to. For software, you want the vendor name and type of product and what version you're running, as well as when licenses or subscriptions need to be renewed and when vendor updates are scheduled. This information provides a baseline for understanding your technology environment.
Using a spreadsheet to track your inventory lets you see entries over time, giving you a history of your organization's tech, as well as the ability to search and sort as needed. For smaller organizations without a lot of hardware or software to track, this is probably sufficient.
But larger organizations with dozens of users and hundreds of tools might use an IT asset management system. With an IT asset management system you can monitor, control, and document all hardware and software. This central repository of IT asset data then allows you to evaluate potential risks and take action to reduce those risks. Many systems also enable you to automatically patch software and push updates to multiple devices at once. And you typically can track renewal and expiration dates, collect purchasing invoices, file contracts and warranties, and manage vendor information.
Low-cost IT asset management systems include UpKeep, Freshservice, and EZOfficeInventory, all of which can be used to track a wide variety of assets and can be expanded for maintenance management, cost management, and more. For organizations with dedicated IT staff, help desk systems such as SolarWinds, Jira, or SeamlessDesk offer IT asset management as part of a more comprehensive IT management system that allows you to ticket problems and service requests and operate devices remotely to help users get back to work more quickly.
One way small organizations can gain the benefits of IT asset management without hiring IT staff is to work with a managed IT services provider. Managed IT providers such as TechSoup and Tech Impact typically use platforms that enable them to do sophisticated monitoring for both maintenance and threat detection. Your managed IT provider can run tracking software in the background and alert you to action items when problems appear or when there's an opportunity to refocus your approach to your technology ecosystem.
Think Holistically About Your Assets
Inventory is only the first step. It's what you do with the inventory that counts.
If your inventory is in a spreadsheet, you'll need to develop a system to regularly make updates or take action on upcoming deadlines. For hardware life cycles, you might only need to check quarterly. A good rule of thumb is that hardware should be replaced within four years, although laptops may have a shorter life cycle depending on how much abuse they take. And you'll want to monitor your hardware to look for signs of wear. If a computer slows down or a router is not delivering the speeds you're expecting, it might be time for a replacement.
Subscriptions and renewals you might monitor more regularly — monthly, for example. Software updates or patches will be hard to track on paper because they're often urgent and irregular, but it would be smart to make sure that all updates are made uniformly and to at least note timing so that you can see when there are big gaps or inconsistencies. One benefit of many cloud-based software systems, such as Microsoft's Office 365, is that the provider will update the software automatically — you don't have to do anything. However, cloud-based websites and database systems may still require you to update them manually, especially if the update changes how data is formatted or viewed.
Sophisticated organizations also look at how technology assets connect and interact. Often a connection itself can be an asset to keep track of because how it is configured can affect other technology. For example, if you were to replace a firewall, you would have to make sure that settings for specific applications are carried over to the new firewall. If the right port in the firewall isn't open, the application won't work, and staff members will be frustrated. Tracking firewall ports is just one way you can document interactions to ensure that any change is accounted for up and down the information stream.
Beyond maintenance, you can monitor for suspicious activity. IT asset management systems often enable you to manage sign-in and control who is able to access which hardware or software. They can also tell you when a staff member logs in to a device or application from an unusual location. You also might be able to monitor how many people use an application and how often, which can then enable your organization to make decisions about the number of licenses or seats it needs, or whether to discontinue its use entirely.
This information will be especially helpful during budgeting time. Knowing exactly which technology needs to be replaced or discontinued can help you make the case for your budget and enables you to work with your organization to project spending beyond just one budget cycle.
Stay on Schedule
The purpose of gathering IT asset information is to act on it — for the good of users and your organization. To act, you need a schedule for reviewing your assets.
New purchases require a lot of planning. The purchasing process can be long and challenging since it could include research, multiple conversations with stakeholders, and demos. The budgeting process can also hold up a purchase, depending on when it falls in your organization's budgeting process. Your purchasing schedule means that you'll need to monitor your schedule for when assets will need to retire and begin the process before you go past your retirement date.
Similarly, many software licenses eventually end. This means that the software vendor will no longer support patches or protect against vulnerabilities. Your inventory should include potential sunset periods and a plan for purchasing and deploying a new version of the software or switching to a new system or service.
Subscriptions also require close attention to your schedule. Renewals occur annually, but you can't wait until the month a service renews to decide whether or not to continue it. If your organization needs to replace the service, you'll need to begin transitioning months in advance. If the service is going unused, it's helpful to first find out why and whether the organization's needs have changed in some way. That can also take some time, depending on the issues to consider, since even unused software often contains data that is useful and needs to be migrated or stored. And keeping an eye on your subscriptions can help you make strategic moves. For example, many tech vendors periodically change how they structure their licenses. You might be able to reduce costs or gain new features by shifting to a new license, but only if you regularly check on whether your vendor has made any changes.
Automate Where Possible
Using spreadsheets to track your assets is a practical approach for many organizations, but it also can be time-intensive. Automating updates and security patches can save time and create peace of mind. Even the smallest organizations can benefit from automation because it facilitates a quicker response to critical actions.
For example, most IT asset management systems can send you automated reminders to help you plan for upgrades or replacements. You can also set alerts to notify you when a new device is on your network or new software has been installed on an organization computer so that you don't have to hunt around in your organization's technology to find out what's changed.
While most IT asset management systems let you automate patches and updates, smaller organizations without them can still employ lower-cost patch management systems that deploy updates — in many cases to multiple computers at once. This will not only save time by preventing you from going computer-by-computer, but it also can help ensure that your actions are consistent and traceable.
Of course, automation doesn't mean that you can set it and forget it. Every change can have downstream consequences, especially where two technologies connect. It's important to continue monitoring your assets to identify issues before they become critical problems.
Perfect Is the Enemy of Good
While every organization should maintain some type of asset management, not every organization can or should do so to the same level of detail. If you work at a very small nonprofit, and technology is only one part of your role, start small. Gather only the information that's useful to you and track it to the best of your ability. Something is better than nothing.
However, there is a lot of value in managing your tech assets. The data you collect about your technology ecosystem can help you to make smarter decisions and to better time those decisions to budgetary and staff needs, eliminating downtime, increasing efficiency, and even contributing to better staff morale.
- Brush up on your spreadsheet skills with TechSoup Courses' Excel for Nonprofits series.
- Check out TechSoup's Managed IT Services.
- Read How TechSoup Services Can Support Your Nonprofit.
- Get some ideas on How to Measure the Value of an IT Investment.
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