Keeping track of technology landscapes poses an increasingly tall order for small and mid-sized enterprises.
By Tracy Bateman
A typical business must manage a myriad of contracts with multiple providers, as well as monitor licenses and invoices related to hardware, software, services, Cloud, and voice and data communications.
Traditionally, oversight of IT and telecom contracts, assets and invoices – broadly defined as Technology Asset Management (TAM) – has been an in-house function. However, in many cases, internal capabilities fail to meet growing demands of complex operations; TAM teams, moreover, often face competing responsibilities and limited resources. This can lead to limited visibility into IT and telecom resources, as well as lax enforcement of corporate governance policies. In today’s environment, treating TAM as a secondary priority is no longer viable. Detailed insight into technology assets is imperative to both operational efficiency as well as business strategy.
Devil in the Details
In a buyer-beware environment, failure to maintain vigilant oversight creates a number of risks. Businesses routinely and reflexively auto-renew licenses and applications – and pay for assets they no longer use. The byzantine processes related to decommissioning a telecom circuit are difficult to track and document. Without a paper trail, customers can continue to pay for dormant circuits. In terms of service management, buyers again bear the onus of securing credits or opening billing tickets.
Unauthorized use of software poses another challenge. Lack of oversight of software assets can lead to unauthorized copying and sharing of applications. Software providers, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly vigilant about auditing customers and levying stiff penalties on those who violate licensing terms.
Businesses are also at risk of falling behind on anti-virus updates. Regular updates and enhancements are likely to bypass applications that aren’t subject to centralized oversight and monitoring. In addition to increasing the risk of breaches, this can lead to non-compliance with regulatory requirements around consumer protection.
The good news is that sophisticated asset management capabilities are becoming more affordable and accessible to mid-sized enterprises. The combination of robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and process optimization can help businesses of all sizes acquire and maintain granular insight into IT and telecom assets, align invoices and utilization, and ensure licensing compliance.
By executing specifically defined and repeatable tasks in much the same way that people do, RPA applications significantly streamline the basic, tedious processes related to the collection of data around a particular asset – the employee to whom it’s registered, the status and access rights of that employee, the date and nature of updates to the asset, and so forth.
While RPA tools are driving significant gains in productivity and accuracy, they’re limited in the sense that they can’t learn from experience or make judgments. In today’s maturing market, more advanced AI tools are enhancing basic RPA functionality to take intelligent automation to the next level.
These capabilities are ideally suited to the requirements of TAM. The activation or decommissioning of a telecom circuit, for example, involves a series of convoluted actions, confirmations and re-checks. When people manage these steps, sloppiness, errors and oversights are inevitable. Robots, meanwhile, are too dumb to be lazy or take shortcuts – they execute the actions precisely as instructed. As a result, automation improves not only productivity, but accuracy and auditability as well.
Integrating intelligent automation into TAM, meanwhile, enables data analytics and builds momentum for ongoing improvement. Businesses can streamline existing processes to connect systems and tools to create new, more effective workflows that add business value. Automating processes around service management, for example, creates an opportunity to enhance root cause analysis. Rather than solving problems efficiently, service desks can eliminate the source of problems to prevent their recurrence. Visibility into the technology environment also makes vendors accountable to service level agreements and improves compliance and integration of new systems with existing technology.
Digital Transformation: Before, During and After
The benefits of intelligent automation-enabled TAM are particularly relevant to businesses seeking to drive digital transformation. Prior to, say, a Cloud or automation initiative, insight into assets is essential to charting a roadmap for change. At a basic level, a business has to know where it is in order to get where it wants to go. More specifically, granular understanding of the environment at the outset of an initiative provides a benchmark to gauge results.
During the course of an initiative, visibility helps to track and document how new systems, applications and workflows impact existing assets. This insight can inform additional process re-design to accommodate new tools and capabilities while developing operational efficiencies and governance compliance.
Post-transformation, TAM is essential to support ongoing management of the new environment. A transformation project can leave a long trail of obsolete technology in its wake. In many cases, businesses can end up paying for systems they no longer use, on top of the new digital assets.
TAM has traditionally represented a burdensome task and a low priority for mid-sized businesses struggling to juggle multiple priorities with limited resources. But enterprises seeking to raise their competitive profile are finding that insight into the nuts and bolts of IT and telecom assets is essential to executing the vision of their digital strategies. Today’s smart tools can connect the dots between the granular details and the big picture.
Tracy Bateman is Retail and Hospitality Offering Manager at Claro Enterprise Solutions, a global IT services provider that helps businesses evolve and adapt to constant change.