IT Asset (Information Technology Asset)

An IT Asset is a piece of software or hardware within an information technology environment. IT assets are integral components of the organization’s systems and network infrastructure. Tracking of IT assets within an IT Asset Management system can be crucial to the operational or financial success of an enterprise.

An asset is defined in general dictionaries as something useful or valuable. The task of any IT manager is to ensure that existing IT assets currently meet those criteria. An undeniable fact about any component of the IT environment is that it has a limited life cycle. Hardware]breaks down. Software becomes obsolete. And systems lose their effectiveness.

The management of IT assets requires well-developed processes and clear policies. IT asset management software may track physical devices, software instances and licenses, and even the cabinets that house them. Managers should be able to look up warranty and vendor information and understand how each asset contributes to the environment. Change control procedures are effective ways to manage upgrades and replacements.

As company property, IT assets are also important for financial managers. From procurement to operations to disposal, each asset comes with a cost. The decision to remove, replace or upgrade an IT asset must be done with a full understanding of any financial impact on the business.[1]

Examples of IT Assets[2]

The increasing complexity of network systems can make it difficult to distinguish what counts as IT assets. When organizations confined their technology stack to a single data room that hosted internal servers, the distinctions were easy enough to make. Today, however, seemingly every aspect of a business could potentially fall under the broad umbrella of IT assets. With that in mind, here are a few general examples of what companies generally think of when it comes to inventorying and managing IT assets.

  • Infrastructure Hardware: This category includes the hardware typically associated with network systems managed by a dedicated IT department. Examples of these assets might include routers and switches, network inspection devices, physical servers, and data centers.
  • In-House Software or Applications: Any programs written or designed by an internal team wholly owned and controlled by the company qualify as IT assets. These programs are distinct from cloud-based software or licensed software.
  • Software Licenses: This category applies to any program or application a company has purchased a license to utilize. Critically, the asset here is the license, not the software.
  • Infrastructure Lease Agreements: Much like software licenses, the leasing agreements that access third-party infrastructure (such as a colocation data center) are often treated as IT assets.
  • Company-Owned Devices: Any computers or other hardware devices interacting with the company’s IT network are considered assets. Employee-owned devices, however, would not fall under this category. A company-issued laptop, for instance, counts as an IT asset, but an employee’s personal smartphone utilize during their work does not.
  • Digital Data: Today’s organizations use huge amounts of data from various sources. Many companies are treating data as a key IT asset that must be valued, managed, and maintained throughout its lifecycle, just like any piece of hardware.

Classifying Types of IT Assets[3]

Digital transformation has changed not only the way business works, and the way IT functions. The data center (which had often been in the “too difficult” pile for both Hardware and Software Asset Management was sidelined as Cloud and XaaS increased in significance (initially through the hype and eventually in reality). Regardless of the debate as to whether something is a hardware asset, software asset, IT asset, or technology asset, there is a wide variety of digital technology supporting the businesses that we need to ensure is managed through effective governance. Changes to the way in which technology is delivered mean that traditional asset management taxonomies are no longer fit for purpose. The complexity and limitations of the diagram (below) clearly demonstrate why the traditional taxonomy for classifying ‘IT’ assets no longer works. While this is a good attempt at building a mechanism for defining what assets fall within ITAM’s remit, it still leaves us with the problem of a fixed taxonomy that risks becoming irrelevant as new technologies are developed.

IT Assets
source: Snow Software

While this model is a good attempt to update the classification from simply ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ it raises several questions that are not easy o answer and illustrates that any attempt to fix a taxonomy will be problematic. These problems are not unique to this model but simply an illustration of the issues that all organizations are encountering and that many IT asset managers are struggling to resolve:

  • IT hardware is increasingly difficult to define – once it was server and desktop. Then additional categories (laptop, mobile) were added. Now we have to consider IoT sensors, operational technology, BYOD, and other challenges. The terms ‘platform’ and ‘edge’ used in the IoT world may offer us more flexibility for a while, but this leads us to…
  • Virtual Machine (VM) – while these are technically software, they replace hardware and have hardware-like attributes. They also run on traditional hardware, which needs to be managed as such.
  • Likewise, cloud services may be considered replacements for hardware, and they do indeed run on hardware. The private cloud will include a requirement to manage the supporting hardware. In contrast, the public cloud is more problematic, and management requirements will vary depending on the service provided IaaS, PaaS, BPaaS, SaaS).
  • SaaS may be considered an asset service (or possibly a Service Asset in ITIL terms), but many organizations manage it as software under existing SAM capabilities.
  • Digital information is often managed by ITAM (particularly where there are subscriptions to be paid for licenses to use the data) but should probably be considered a data asset and fall under the remit of Information Asset Management. These subscriptions are not software licenses, and although the process for approval payment may be shared, the governance is not.
  • IT contracts cover more than technology assets, generally managed by procurement, contract, or vendor management. While ITAM needs to know where these are and have access to data needed to manage the assets, the responsibility for managing the contract is beyond the remit of any ITAM function. ITAM systems are not generally suitable for use as contract management systems.
  • A specific concern with the ISO model is that it calls out the ITAM system and tools themselves as a specific category of assets to be managed (and makes it a large part of the diagram). The data and metadata related to ITAM would normally be considered data assets and therefore fall under information asset management. In contrast, the technology assets that make up the ITAM solution should be considered as part of their primary asset class and not as something separate.

See Also