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The importance of desktop inventory management tools

Desktop inventory management tools help keep track of how many endpoints are in use and who's using them. That basic information can help with sundry other management tasks, such as budgeting and responses to security breaches.

Although mobile devices dominate the adoption of new computing hardware, there is still a large installed base of desktop systems. This has been the case for decades, and it is especially true in the enterprise.

One of the benefits of this long period of broad desktop use is that IT administrators have a wide array of management tools to choose from. The Windows operating system and, to a lesser extent, Apple's Mac OS X support management of group policies, registry settings and other configuration parameters, which may be sufficient for small organizations. But larger businesses will likely want to turn to specialized products, such as desktop inventory management tools.

One of the most important aspects of endpoint management is desktop inventory management. A timeworn management phrase is "you can't manage what you can't measure." The simplest measure is a count. It's hard to imagine managing desktops without basic counts and other inventory information.

Desktop inventory management tools are common in endpoint management systems. They typically provide a means to catalog devices on your network. There is probably more concern about unmanaged mobile devices, but do not underestimate the probability that unmanaged -- or at least incorrectly cataloged -- desktops exist in your organization.

Why desktop inventory management matters

Consider this scenario: Alice, an outstanding analyst, is promoted to a new role in a different department where she receives a new laptop. Rather than let her high-end desktop go unused, she passes it on to Bob, the analyst assuming her previous responsibilities. Bob already has a desktop, but he welcomes a second. He runs large statistical models and likes the idea of using Alice's desktop for long, running batch analysis jobs. Such informal arrangements can incrementally degrade the quality of inventory data.

Desktop inventory management tools, also known as asset management programs, can collect useful information about devices, their physical configurations and the software they have installed. This information is useful both for desktop administrators and business managers. Administrators have a single point of reference for all inquiries about assets. Business managers can use the information to verify employees and devices assigned, which is especially helpful for catching updates that should have been made but never were. In the example above, if Alice had left the company, her manager could have readily spotted a desktop still assigned to her and corrected the error.

Inventory management is useful for planning purposes as well. Desktops follow a common lifecycle, and business managers may run through a number of "what if?" budgeting scenarios. If the average useful life of a desktop were increased from three years to four in a particular department, how would it affect capital expenses? If executives replaced front-line production managers' desktops with tablets, how much would it cost? A comprehensive and well-organized inventory can help answer these kinds of questions.

Desktop inventories can also aid the incident response team addressing a security breach. A security analyst who hears of vulnerability in a particular version of an operating system would want to know how many desktops in the organization are vulnerable. Additional information, such as where the devices are located, who is using them and details about software patches could be useful as well.

Do not overlook the value of inventory management tools to support software license management. It is difficult to negotiate licensing agreements if you do not have a good handle on the number of licenses in use, their actual utilization and the trade-offs between different licensing models. You may find, for example, that you have purchased an enterprise license for a piece of software that is deployed far less than originally expected.

Next Steps

Three third-party asset management tools to consider

Don't overlook these endpoint management tools

How command-line tools get desktop management done

This was last published in April 2015

Dig Deeper on Endpoint security management tools

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It isn't so much inventory of everything on everyone's computer, but it certainly is important if it can help you identify software that is licensed easily for audits, review patch status, review system health, but it also could be useful to help identify new services that maybe don't belong, for example a project server spun up for a task that is meant to be handled in another part of the organization.
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An essential tool. It's (almost) impossible to plan for upgrades (and repairs) without knowing exactly what's in use and where.

Despite best efforts, unauthorized and sometimes, what might be called, "unregistered" software creeps its way onto desktops, sometimes even inadvertently. Solid DIM tools provide a window to all that software and services in use.
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