Building a Complete Picture of IT Assets — SolarWinds TechPod 017

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To maximize the benefits of business technology, IT asset management (ITAM) should have a strong relationship with service delivery. Over the years, ITAM has evolved beyond a spreadsheet of laptops and devices into a discipline of IT that can directly impact the day-to-day experience for employees. Through automated discovery, the IT service desk can leverage asset data to build a CMDB and deliver a better service experience. SolarWinds ITSM technical experts Matt Cox (Senior Director, Technical Services) and Tim Lawes (Manager, Solutions Engineering) discuss some of the ways to simplify IT asset management and leverage that data in ITIL practices. This episode of SolarWinds® TechPod is brought to you by SolarWinds Service Desk, an ITSM solution built for more than just tickets. Try SolarWinds Discovery to manage and identify all your IT assets and bring that data into your service management strategy. Learn more at Related Links:
Matt Cox

Guest | MSP Senior Manager, Sales Engineering, SolarWinds

With nearly 15 years of experience in the IT industry, Matt Cox is a lover of creating technical solutions and successful customers. As the Senior… Read More
Tim Lawes

Guest | Manager of Solutions Engineering, ITSM at SolarWinds

Tim Lawes serves as Manager of Solutions Engineering, ITSM at SolarWinds. ITIL 4 certified, he brings 10+ years of training and consulting experience in the… Read More
Chris McManus

Host | Marketing Manager, ITSM, SolarWinds

Chris McManus is a multimedia content producer at SolarWinds. He works with Service Desk customers on case studies and video stories, and he’s the go-to… Read More

Episode Transcript

Chris: Welcome to Tech Talks. My name is Chris McManus. I’m a marketing manager in the ITSM unit of SolarWinds, and on today’s episode we’re talking about evolving ITSM through fully integrated IT asset management. So, what does that mean? We’re going to talk life cycle management, identifying and tracking devices, hardware, software, applications, all the other assets in your organization. And then we’re going to discuss how that data can fit into your service delivery from a service desk perspective. I’ve got two esteemed guests with me here today. Uh, the first is the Senior Director of our sales engineering team in the SolarWinds ITSM unit. His name’s Matt Cox. Hello Matt.

Matt: Hey, thanks for having me.

Chris: First podcast.

Matt: It is our first podcast.

Chris: That’s going to be a lot of fun because we’ve got, Tim Lawes with us as well. He’s our manager of our sales engineering team in the ITSM unit. Hey Tim.

Tim: Hey guys. How are you?

Chris: Doing well. So, let’s talk IT asset management. Technology environments have evolved over the years and you guys have seen it; you’re working with customers every day. When you look at it now and all these devices and pieces of hardware and software and network connected devices that are coming in and coming out, getting upgraded all the time, how has it changed? How has it evolved over the years, and where are we now today?

Tim: I mean, in my opinion, there’s way more of it, right? You think about 10 years ago, the applications you were using and the hardware that you were using. Sure, we all had cell phones, but how many people had smart phones that long ago? And the types of devices we’re using are always evolving and they’re basically multiplying. We’ve got more and more of them. Their importance is growing in our lives all the time and how we use them in our business is getting more and more important as well.

Matt: That’s a really good point Tim. It actually made me think of…we’re getting started right off the bat. So actually, I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta and it was a healthcare IT conference and they brought up the point of they’re having trouble managing all these assets. If you think about that industry and what they’re doing, there’s all kinds of assets that are in a hospital. There’s screens and displays and there’s things that measure and, and tracking all those things. And actually, some of those things go home with the patient. “Hey, are this for the next day and come back and we’re going to look at the data that it captured.” So, thinking about that and scope of asset management, it’s crazy and everything’s connected. So that’s an interesting way to look at it.

Chris: In that example, there’s lives that literally depend on that technology.

Matt: Absolutely. Now this is a really important podcast. Isn’t it?

Chris: So if we dial it back a step from there, you know IT’s had to learn about what other business units are doing because you know, like in your healthcare example, you’ve got doctors depending on technology. I’ve got marketing tools that IT is helping me with. Finance, HR, they’ve all got these digital tools. And that’s part of the digital transformation buzzword that everybody talks about. So how has IT’s role evolved and the importance on tracking all of this and knowing where all the data is in terms of what it means to the entire business?

Matt: So I’ll answer that one first too. So, you mentioned it right on the head and this is something that we think about quite a bit. It kind of actually goes back to budget we don’t usually think about it that much, but I think everybody listening probably does. You have a budget, you’ve got to stick to it, but you’re still accountable for providing the service to everybody in the office, right? Everybody’s got to work. They need a screen, they need a keyboard, mouse, they, they need the laptop itself, and those things are expensive. So, you’ve got to find a way to chip away at any problems that might arise. I don’t have enough laptops. I’ve got too many in loaner. I’ve got a whole stack of broken ones sitting there. It just immediately creates the need to put some attention around what you’re doing here.

Tim: Yeah, and I definitely think the importance of IT is growing as well. You know, every single department’s using their computer, their own app, their own applications, they’re relying on all the hardware. So, having all those departments kind of commingle and relying on all this stuff, it’s really bringing, the importance of IT to the front.

Chris: When you see problems now and people come to you guys and say, how do I fix this? What are the most common things you see that people struggle with in terms of tracking the technology?

Tim: I mean, I think volume is one of them. You know, kind of where they’re coming from. All this stuff is super, super important because you then can draw conclusions about where your resources are going from an IT perspective, right? How many of these situations are we trying to resolve? How many requests are we getting for these certain situations or these certain assets, things like that. So, a lot of it really kind of drives reporting. Then you can make educational decisions based on that.

Chris: Matt, when you look at IT asset management from our perspective, we work within a platform that has assets and service desk. How does it all fit in? How does all that data fit into what you’re trying to achieve?

Matt: In a service desk? Yeah, it’s really cool, it’s probably one of the most fun conversations I think we have with our customers is, there’s more than just tracking the assets, right? And we will talk to a lot of customers that are using spreadsheets. Of course it’s a great idea not to manually track everything, but when you fold in other parts of what you’re really trying to do at work is when it actually gets to be a little bit more exciting than just “here’s a list of things that you know is accurate and up to date.” Right? So, fold in people and fold in what work they’re trying to do, and Tim you made me think of it just a second ago. You’re providing a whole bunch of laptops all across the different departments and they’ve got to get their work done. So if it’s, for example, end of month, the last place you want these people pointing is at you, the IT guy, when something’s working and a big sale is on the line or whatever. I mean, we have salespeople here and I guarantee they’re going to think the same way. I’ve talked to so many customers that are in that boat there. They’ll say, “Let’s not touch this until, you know, the first of the month.” That kind of thing. So that’s one big thing to think about. Folding the people aspect into it is really where you start, like Tim said, make educated decisions looking at reporting. But if you fold in who’s using it, what they’re trying to do, what their role is, you can start to then match up their whole experience. Do they have the right laptop? Do they have the right memory in the thing? Are they submitting a lot of tickets for it? And when you use a service desk to do that, then you actually have that data. I have these machines and I can pinpoint that this version of something is really causing me a lot more trouble. I can look and see that this is just a problem laptop, that’s always the simple one, right? Click on the record, you can see all these incidents over time and you start to understand, is this person frustrated with the machine that you gave them? And I know that that’s got to be the case with our customers.

Tim: Yeah, and it’s really kind of cool too. Once you start compiling that data and reporting on it, you realize how much you know from it. But on the other side of that coin, you realize how much you don’t know. So, like this application we thought everyone was going to be using, they’re not using whatsoever. We’ve installed it everywhere and you know, the, the usage rate is super, super low. Or we are completely under-utilizing this, are over-utilizing this as well. So, it’s very fascinating.

Chris: So the key is once we’ve got all that data right, if you’ve got a strategy in place to find the computer, find that IP connected devices, find all the software and hardware, and now you can start to build relationships between them. And that’s what really has the big impact on the business.

Matt: Yeah, it does. And data is key. I mean, we’re both data guys. Tim is a big SQL nerd. I love relational databases and what we were actually talking about in the elevator on the way up here was, the data’s going to tell a story. I think to your point, Tim, the data’s going to tell a story and there’s stories out there that you don’t know exist about your data and you want to start looking at it and you want to start understanding.

SEGMENT BREAK: Yeah, so we’re going to talk more about that and dive into specifically how it fits into the service desk in just a minute, but first we want to remind you to register for this year’s THWACKcamp™. There’s still time. This year’s THWACKcamp will include entertaining “Ask Me Anything” sessions with our SolarWinds Head Geeks™ and exclusive content from our guest speakers. Claim your unlimited seat at now. In fact, Matt we’ll be presenting a session on focusing service management on the employee experience, and there are dozens of other sessions with very specific content, so we hope you can join us. Again, all the information is on

Chris: All right, so you’re tracking all of your assets and hopefully it’s at a point where it’s constantly updating within your solution, right? It’s updating all those data points on computers and mobile devices, on your network connected devices, and any integrations to pull in other tools within your technology environment. And so, you’ve got all that data and it’s constantly updating. So now proactivity is our focus. How do we take that data and start being proactive in terms of the experience we’re providing to employees in our organization?

Tim: Sure. I think first probably comes down to the relationships. Now that you have the asset data in the system, you can start linking it to users or you can start linking it to sites and departments, things like that. So, you kind of know from a relationship standpoint who owns what asset, what’s the purpose of that asset, where does it live. From there you can start linking those to all the other service desk side stuff. So, the incidents, problems, changes, releases, things like that. Someone drops a laptop in the driveway out front. You know that Chris McManus owns this MacBook. You already got it linked, you’ve linked it to that asset. You have a history of the life cycle.

Chris: So I’m almost kind of picturing it like a spiderweb and you can identify different sections of it where, you know, these are all the connected parts of this that, if I make this change, I can see exactly everything that it’s going to affect.

Matt: Spiderweb’s a good analogy. I think Tim, you call it a rat’s nest sometimes.

Tim: Yeah. It can end up looking like that.

Chris: So this is where those ITIL certifications come in and I know Tim you just got your ITIL 4, right?

Tim: Oh, it’s bright and shiny still.

Chris: There you go. So, this is where some of these ITIL best practices are going to come in and Matt, Tim mentioned change management. Now you’ve got all this data to work with, which is going to help you plan better.

Matt: Yeah. That’s a good, that’s a good question, Chris. So,  now that you’re doing these things and, your business kind of, your operation is up and running. You have the ability now to take a look at how you’re doing things. That’s where change management comes in. A lot of the people we talk to, you know, of course they’re talking to us because they want a new service desk, but, most of the time I would say they have changed management and scope of what their project is. Tim’s nodding, you can’t see it, but he’s nodding.

Tim: Confirmed.

Matt: It’s confirmed.

Chris: Audio only.

Matt: And there’s a good reason why I could because it’s a good choice. And if, if you have someone who can help you keep that in scope, if you’re looking at making changes to your service desk processes, it’s a good idea to consider. You’ve got a CMDB, you’ve got asset data, and you should look at change management as I’m using maybe multiple technologies or multiple pieces of hardware or software to provide a really complex service, maybe access to some application. Maybe the ability to see email on a mobile device globally. All that requires a lot of work. And you take this data and you’re now kind of putting structure around managing the service part of it and that’s where, to me, ITIL comes in.

Tim: A real world example. We just closed the books on the month of July from a sales perspective just a couple of days ago. We had some antivirus updates that were going to get pushed out to all of our laptops, and we made the decision, in fact, you made the decision to postpone that because if anything happened negatively with the sales department, that has a huge impact on the entire company. So, props to you.

Matt: Yup. Yeah. We did a test group of users first globally.

Chris: I was in it.

Matt: You were in it, yeah.

Chris: It went well.

Matt: It did go well. We do the test group of users globally and we do a little bit less than impact. And then yesterday I made the change.

Tim: I got it this morning.

Chris: So we’ve talked a little bit about the impact that all this data can have. We’ve gone through a few examples. I want to make sure we really cover how we collect all this data. I know that’s been a big topic of conversation around the SolarWinds ITSM business unit and that’s why we recently rolled out a new product offering and SolarWinds Discovery, which is basically a three-pronged approach. It’s going to have the installed herbal agent for your computers and mobile devices. It’s going to have the network scanner for the IP connected devices and it’s going to have the integrations piece for your SCCM or Chrome OS, etc. So, what’s the importance of this and why is it necessary to have all three of those components?

Tim: Yeah, we’re kind of casting a wide net in that, in that regard. So, we know that our customers are storing their data and collecting their data differently. So that’s why we have the SCCM Integration vCenter, and a lot of people have virtual machines now obviously. Basically giving people multiple avenues to collect that super important asset data. A lot of times people will be using them in parallel as well, depending on how much data that they need to collect. How often they need to collect it. Things like that.

Chris: And Matt for SolarWinds Service Desk customers, what type of impact is this going to have on their environments?

Matt: I wouldn’t even say Chris that it’s going have an impact on their environments because we always think of impact kind of in a negative way, but it’s going to have a benefit, right? It’s going to say, like Tim says, depending on what your environment is and what your infrastructure is, it’s going to give you an option. If you want to use what we probably call the “classic agent,” just download the executable file and all your machines, you can. You can pair that with other technologies that we have. And then, you’re kind of picking and choosing what you need to get your work done.

Chris: So the idea is whatever you’re trying to accomplish in whatever you’re trying to track and update, this is going to cover it one way or another, right?

Matt: Yeah. And I spoke with a customer last week and his title was actually VP of Digital Infrastructure. Which I thought was really cool title one, props to that guy. But two, it’s really interesting that you would have somebody that needs that title and it’s just, to me, representative of what the world is out there doing, right? And again, to Tim’s point, you have to make the choices in the technologies that you use so that you can fit into how you’re running your business.

Chris: All right, last piece before we sign off. For IT pros who are looking to improve their asset management processes or incorporate that data into their service desk, like we’ve been talking about for the last 20 minutes here, any final pieces of advice? Tim we’ll start with you.

Tim: I would say start as soon as you can. That old saying, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is right now.” You know, a lot of people are still storing on spreadsheets like we talked about before.

Matt: That’s deep Tim, that is deep.

Tim: Listen man, you guys hang out with me, you’re going learn some stuff here.

Matt: About 10 years ago?

Tim: It could have been, I guess. You’re young Chris. That’s the thing. 10 years is way bigger than mine.

Chris: So get going now is the point.

Tim: Yeah, that’s what I would say. I mean there’s no time like the present. That’s when all this stuff that we had previously talked about, you’re going to be gathering all that data. It’s going to have huge impacts positively on how you’re operating internally between business units.

Matt: I think that’s a good point. I always think of that in terms of, once you, once you get started, then you know, when you’re cutting the grass or when you’re in the shower where you’re at a red light, those are the kinds of things that you’ll start thinking about because you have the information, then you can go, “Now where do I go next?”

Chris: All right, sound advice, Matt, any final pieces of advice, for anyone listening?

Matt: Yeah, I do have some advice, a little bit different from Tim’s and actually got this from a customer. My advice would be to talk to your peers. Get out there, go to different industry meetings. We do that sometimes, Tim.

Tim: All the time.

Matt: We just go to technology meetings around the triangle here in Raleigh. Talk to your peers, see what they’re doing, see what standards they’re holding themselves to. If they’re into ITIL processes around asset management, what are they doing, or not doing, and why? And see what comparisons you make and you’ll learn it keeps you from being in your own silo. That’s my advice.

Chris: Well thanks guys. Appreciate you making time here on Tech Talks. Maybe we’ll all get invited back.

Matt: I hope so. It’s been fun, Chris. Thank you.

Tim: I’m free next Friday

Chris: And thanks everyone for downloading and listening to SolarWinds Tech Pod. Please subscribe, rate, and review. And if you want to learn more about SolarWinds Service Desk or SolarWinds Discovery, visit