What are the six best practices for IT asset discovery and management?
If you assign a managed service provider (MSP) technician to IT asset discovery and management, you’ll probably get a certain reaction: groans of despair.
IT asset discovery can be a laborious and tedious task, and technicians would rather spend their time solving high-priority IT problems and risks. And, truthfully, that’s where their time is better spent—when technicians quickly solve problems and stop catastrophes from developing, clients are more satisfied.
Technicians will also be much happier spending time on more challenging responsibilities. And employee satisfaction is a key way for MSPs to scale in 2021 and beyond.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the best ways that MSPs can make IT asset discovery and management more efficient, which will result in happier technicians, generate better productivity, and boost client satisfaction.
IT asset discovery: the foundation of IT asset management
As we all know, asset discovery is a foundational part of any MSP’s engagement with clients.
IT asset discovery is the act of understanding the full scope of all the devices on a client’s network, such as laptops, mobile devices, printers, servers, and more. When assets linger on a network without being accounted for, it introduces operational and security risk. An unmanaged or unpatched computer, for example, could:
- Lead to gaps in patch management
- Give hackers the toehold they need to infiltrate the network
- Allow malware such as ransomware to self-install
Since MSPs can only successfully manage assets they actually know exist, good asset discovery is key in every client engagement.
After asset discovery is complete, IT asset management includes the full range of MSP services necessary to manage those assets throughout their lifecycle, such as:
- Patching software and operating systems
- Repairing hardware issues
- Optimizing the device’s performance and speed
- Taking measures to ensure the device remains secure, such as providing firewall technology, a virtual private network (VPN), etc.
- Keeping track of all service performed on the device
- Managing inventory and replacing devices or parts as they age out
These two functions—IT asset discovery and IT asset management—are symbiotic. They’re also an ongoing effort. As your client grows and expands, new devices and technologies will constantly be added and managed. Similarly, older devices will need to be replaced and repaired.
Six best practices for IT asset discovery and IT asset management
While IT asset discovery and IT asset management are core functions of the MSP-client relationship, these can be tedious tasks, as mentioned above. They can also be costly, eating up technician hours.
MSPs can implement the following best practices to reduce the burden on technicians while ensuring no device goes undiscovered or unmanaged for long.
1. Put network scans on autopilot
As mentioned above, an organization’s IT assets are constantly growing. Consider that a business founded 30 years ago may have only needed to contend with desktop computers in a single office environment with one corporate network. Simple setup, right?
Fast forward to today, and that same company is likely managing many dozens (if not hundreds) of assets, from laptops to mobile phones, tablets to wireless printers, and more. And forget the traditional IT network. Employees are working remotely from many different locations on public Wi-Fi or home networks.
Complex IT environments like this make it easy for devices to join or leave networks undetected. That’s why automated IT asset discovery scanning is crucial.
With regular network scans via a remote monitoring and management (RMM) solution, MSPs can quickly find new assets—and understand whether they should be on the network to begin with. If they are, MSPs can then effectively track and manage those assets.
Automated scanning also allows technicians to breathe a sigh of relief. They can focus on urgent client requests, while their RMM chugs away quietly in the background.
2. Automate your agents
Ultimately, MSPs need to make IT asset discovery and IT asset management scalable. That means they need an easy, repeatable process to find, account for, and reconcile all the devices that they should be monitoring for clients.
Automation can help with this, too. By automating the deployment of agents, MSPs can put finding and keeping track of devices on autopilot. When agents are automatically installed on new devices, it means that technicians don’t need to spend time configuring what is likely a pretty standard setup. It also means that there’s not a large gap between an asset entering the network and the technician’s ability to address potential risks or problems.
Automating agents also allows MSPs to customize settings (such as which devices are automatically recognized on the network) and simultaneously sync data within their RMM solution. With greater discovery and monitoring capabilities and more data on each device, MSPs can more effectively manage accounts and provide better service to customers.
Take ConnectWise Automate, which allows organizations to deploy agents to endpoints quickly with our Network Probe Technology. This can offer a good option beyond Active Directory Group Policies, especially in environments with multiple workers or groups.
For example, with ongoing deployment of agents to all new devices, MSPs can:
- Manage by exception if/when an unknown device enters the network and remove the device quickly
- Stay aware of every device that needs to be managed—even those that clients purchase outside the contract without telling the MSP
- Get ahead of clients’ issues
- Prevent network threats by monitoring and managing every device
With agents on every asset, MSPs can more easily maintain and manage routine tasks. In fact, many of these routine tasks, such as patching, can be automated, too. By reducing the amount of technician time spent on these actions, MSPs can realize significant time and financial savings.
For example, our Total Economic Cost of the ConnectWise Platform report found that MSPs saved 60 percent of time by automating away some routine hardware maintenance tasks. With less technician time spent on these tasks, organizations reduced the expense of maintaining hardware by $1.2 million over three years.
3. Create a centralized database and dashboard
Assets add up fast. MSPs can make it easier to see the big picture by creating a centralized place to understand and manage every asset on a client’s network. With a dashboard view of everything, MSPs can quickly view which assets need which services.
For example, MSPs can understand at a glance when assets:
- Are having ongoing performance issues
- Could pose a security threat
- Are being used in out-of-policy ways
No matter what your clients need, a single source of the truth will help your MSP business deliver better service and maintain better security. Take, for example, ConnectWise customer Keller Logistics. With ConnectWise Automate, they were able to combine multiple IT management functions into a single platform, giving them a “God view” of IT. In the words of their IT Security Analyst:
“We utilize the tree in ConnectWise Automate to show us reports of what software is out of date on certain PCs. We can check a user’s software version, whether it’s Java, PDF Reader or a proprietary application. We don’t need to remote into computers to check versions. That saves labor because our technician can instantly see that he doesn’t need to touch three-quarters of the PCs in order to update a particular software version, for example.”
4. Communicate with clients via your PSA
Great IT asset discovery and IT asset management can help MSPs boost sales opportunities. When MSPs have full view and control of assets, they can help clients understand when devices need to be upgraded, replaced, and more.
IT asset discovery and management can yield valuable information, such as:
- Hardware that will soon expire and needs to be replaced
- Demand for new software licenses (and renewals)
- Necessary repairs and upgrades
- Device-specific information, such as barcodes and tickets
- And more
With IT asset discovery and management feeding information into the PSA, MSPs can more easily bring in revenue. How? Better communication.
The data points mentioned above can be integrated into a professional services automation (PSA) tool, which the sales team can use to expand or renew contracts. A good PSA solution can automate notifications, making the sales team’s job easier and ensuring efficient and timely communication with clients.
Integrating this data into a PSA also benefits technicians. After all, old, outdated, and poor-quality technology takes way more work to maintain. When clients replace technology with modern, high-quality tech, their IT works better and MSPs face less of an uphill battle on service delivery costs—a win/win for everyone. It also frees up time to focus on other business-critical tasks, such as expanding into fast-growing revenue opportunities, such as the demand for cybersecurity services.
5. Integrate inventory and IT asset management with your stack
With managing a fleet of assets comes ordering: replacement devices, upgrade kits, software licenses, and more. With so much more IT complexity, it’s not hard for IT inventory and asset management to get out of hand, which can lead to issues such as:
- Problems with procurement and purchasing
- Messy billing cycles with dropped or missed items
- Challenges in accurately maintaining asset health
- Frustration from technicians and clients alike
In order to accurately manage devices and get paid for each item ordered, MSPs need a good way to track every single asset and tie each one to services received, replacement costs, and more.
MSPs can do this by integrating procurement into their RMM and tech stack. When this happens, MSPs can accurately manage assets from the day their barcodes scan into the system to the day they’re retired and replaced.
With a good RMM and integrated IT inventory and asset management function, MSPs can:
- Group multiple products and orders into a single shipment
- Enter custom handling instructions for sensitive or fragile orders
- Automatically renew orders or billing
- Track every PO, serial number, and barcode
- Keep a close eye on low-stock items
- Manage warehouse stock
6. Conduct continual asset management to reduce risks
When they go unknown, unpatched, and unprotected, IT assets represent a cybersecurity risk. Bad actors can find their way into networks via long-forgotten tablets, improperly configured or monitored internet of things (IoT) devices, and more.
In short: It’s impossible to implement good endpoint protection if you don’t know what all the endpoints are.
And many MSP clients know their endpoint protection is lacking. In fact, our latest State of SMB Cybersecurity Report found that 47 percent of companies don’t have advanced endpoint protection in place, while 53 percent don’t have advanced network protection in place. That’s a lot of opportunity for a hacker to slip through the defenses.
MSPs can help their clients by implementing better IT asset management processes and by finding the right tools to protect networks and devices. Routinely assessing assets can play an important role in catching issues—such as outdated patches or unlicensed software—that pose security threats. After all, MSPs don’t want to ignore activity that could pose a danger. Be sure to continually evaluate asset management practices, processes, and solutions.
Supporting growth with better IT asset discovery and management
IT asset discovery and management is a routine, foundational function at any MSP—and that’s why it’s so important. Without good IT asset management processes and tools, MSPs lose visibility and control. After all, you can only manage what you know actually exists.
MSPs can put IT asset discovery and management on autopilot with the right practices and tools, which will free up employee time and result in better service for clients. And when clients and technicians are both happy, businesses do better.
With the six best practices listed above and the right technology solutions, MSPs can make discovering and managing IT assets into their powerhouse.