Intro to IT Hardware Inventory Management

Written by Mike Ranellone on February 29, 2020

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When it comes to troubleshooting, security, and purchasing decisions, you’ve got better things to do with your time than dig through a pile of old receipts or chase down individual employees for details about their machines.

Even though hardware inventory management may be one of the less riveting aspects of working in IT, a standardized approach to it will make countless other areas of the job easier. With a relatively small up-front time investment, you can create a single, well-organized, up-to-date repository of IT asset data — a resource you’ll thank yourself for time and again. 

Let’s take a closer look at which tasks fall under the umbrella of IT asset management, what core information to gather, and how to automate the initial process of pulling, organizing, and storing a good deal of that information. 

What Is IT Hardware Inventory Management? 

The core of IT asset management is simple: You need to know what computers and other hardware your organization owns, who’s using them (and where), and how various assets are configured. The hardware you’ll want to inventory includes: 

  • The laptops, desktops, and servers that allow users to interface with their work
  • Wireless access points (WAPs) and related network infrastructure 
  • File servers, both on-prem and in the cloud 
  • Auxiliary assets like monitors, docks, mice, keyboards, conference TVs, printers, etc. 
  • Company-issued mobile devices, if applicable 

IT asset management involves more than just keeping track of each box’s serial number — though that alone can be huge in solving warranty and repair issues and for financial accounting purposes. A holistic approach should also track workstations’ hardware and software configurations, including: 

  • OS version and installed patches across Mac, Windows, and Linux systems 
  • Assigned users and local user accounts 
  • Memory, CPU, and storage availability 
  • Network configurations and hardware 

Easy access to information like purchase date, assigned users, components, licenses, and other attributes can be helpful in an almost infinite number of situations. We’ll examine a few of the most consequential scenarios below. 

Benefits of Careful IT Asset Management  

On any given day, a repeatable asset management process will save time and frustration, and help you avoid disrupting end users. And when it comes time for a compliance audit or a project related to security, centralized asset data becomes mission-critical. Here are a few of the areas where thoughtful IT inventory management will pay dividends: 

Troubleshooting & End User Enablement 

When computer issues disrupt an end user’s workflow, they disrupt yours, too. A catalog of system data can help you identify and preemptively fix problems before they get serious. With the right info, you can know ahead of time which batteries are starting to get old, which systems are running out of CPU, memory, or storage, and even which workstations might have compatibility issues with their keyboards, monitors, or docks. And storage data can be especially helpful for proactive server management: you want to avoid a scenario where a log file gets too big and overruns the disk. 

Of course, some things are still going to break unexpectedly. In those scenarios, proper asset management will help streamline warranty, exchange, and aftermarket service processes. Ideally, you’d be able to run through basic troubleshooting remotely, pulling error reports and checking system status info while the user still has their machine. 

Security & Compliance 

In order to demonstrate regulatory compliance for an audit, your industry’s governing body will likely require an IT asset inventory proving that each system in the environment meets important security baselines. You may need to show that operating system patches are up to date, all data at rest is encrypted, and password complexity is being enforced, with multi-factor authentication (MFA) in place wherever possible. You should be able to pull a list of local users on systems across your fleet, and consistently terminate inactive user and computer accounts from your directory. 

Organized IT asset management can also help you react nimbly to newly identified security threats. If a new threat is identified that affects a certain OS version, for example, you need a way to quickly identify any instances of that OS in your environment.  

Budgeting & Purchase Decisions 

Most IT teams have a go-to machine model and configuration they’ll purchase for new employees or to replace aging systems. In choosing this standard toolkit, it’s important to consider a combination of up-front price and aftermarket support. You may also need to consider component upgrades for teams that require higher-than-average performance. IT asset inventory data can help you make informed decisions about users’ needs and avoid spending too much or too little on hardware. In the cloud era, for example, most users don’t need a lot of local storage. Usage data could help justify equipping your new standard toolkit with only a relatively small SSD. 

Organized IT asset data can also help you stay synced with the finance team, who’ll need an up-to-date list of all the assets in the organization for accounting and audit reasons.

Automating IT Hardware Inventory Management 

If creating, populating, and maintaining a spreadsheet for all of the above data sounds tedious, that’s because it is. Thankfully, solutions that automate key aspects of IT asset management exist. If you’re responsible for more than a handful of users and systems, you’ll want to start with an asset management platform. This solution doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. It just needs to provide a central location to log assets and their attributes, ideally in a format that lets you easily reorganize the information, track cost, pair users with hardware, update maintenance status, and export reports. 

Most inventory management solutions still require some amount of manual data entry, but you should be able to automate the process of gathering most of that data. In the era of modern cloud-based IT, you ought to have the option of remotely pulling key data points from Mac, Windows, and Linux systems right from your directory. It might even be possible to use your directory service’s API to customize inventory reporting or integrate it with your asset management software. 

System Reporting With a Cloud Directory 

If your organization has been getting by so far without a true central user directory, or has been struggling to manage Mac and Linux systems with Active Directory®, an OS-agnostic cloud directory service could play a significant role in reigning in asset management. JumpCloud’s System Insights™ feature, for example, lets admins remotely pull key system data points, including serial number, OS version, hardware attributes, disk encryption status, software licenses, local user accounts, and more, either from individual machines or in the aggregate. This type of integrated cloud directory solution could replace the manual labor of collecting most hardware asset info.    

Sign up for a trial of JumpCloud to experience cloud-based user and system management, with access control for virtually any IT resource on-prem or in the cloud, plus available System Insights functionality to streamline your asset inventory process.

Mike Ranellone

Mike is a writer at JumpCloud who's especially interested in the changing role of tech in society. He cut his teeth in the ad agency world and holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Colorado-Boulder and a B.A. in English and music from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. Outside of JumpCloud, he's an avid skier, cellist, and poet.

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