Asset management is one of those less-than-glorious responsibilities of IT departments. When you’re a provincial goverment with some 30,000 desktop computers to oversee, it can become a daunting challenge.
That’s what faced the government of British Columbia when it decided a
year ago to consolidate the workstations of all its ministries as part of a plan to outsource support.
Fortunately, a Victoria technical services provider came to its rescue.
The goal of the centralization was to move the government to a common suite of Windows XP-based applications on as many desktops as possible and cut down support costs.
That would also make the possiblity of outsourcing workstation support more attractive to service companies.
Unfortunately, “”we found we didn’t have a good handle on inventory”” said Jackie Wald, business process co-ordinator for workstations in the common IT services branch.
Responsibility for tracking equipment had been handled by individual ministries, but it was held in different formats that couldn’t be combined. The province needed to know what it had and fast so it could judge if consolidation would be worthwhile.
Several asset management software solutions were examined, she said, but were rejected because of price or time constraints. One alternative was Microsoft’s System Manage-ment Server (SMS) “”But it was overkill.”” Not only would the application have given more data than needed, it would have cost thousands of dollars to install the SMS client on the 15,000 provincial PCs which didn’t already have it.
The government also rejected companies offering online inventory services but would own the data collected.
The solution was provided by Technet Canada Inc., a 31-year-old company which runs 30 authorized service centres across the province and Alberta for leading manufacturers. It also hosts and runs help desk services for Windows-based systems, installs networks and has an asset disposal service.
Like the B.C. government, many potential customers need a quick inventory of their hardware, so three years ago the company became a software developer of sorts. It created LanCensus, an application which originally searched networks and inventoried hardware to one which also details installed software.
It took the company about five months to write the app, said Don Burrows, Tecnet’s general manager.
LanCensus’ solution is simple: a file-share is installed on a network (which in the B.C. government’s case was helped by the fact that it has only one domain) and a line is added to the standard log-in script.
When a user signs on to the network, Burrows said, LanCensus creates a temporary file on the node, then searches the Windows registry for hardware and software information, which is written to the file. That data is then sent to a SQL Server database. If a client wants, the information can also be linked to Tecnet’s help desk software.
A pilot proved its worth and in November it was rolled out to all ministries.
“”It was very easy to impliment and the impact was minimal,”” said Wald. “”It gave us trustworthy data we didn’t have before.””
With the solid information the government’s plan is going ahead. In December an RFP was issued for bids to outsource support, a contract that is expected to be awarded in the fall. It’s also using the data to form a patch management strategy.
“”It’s been a delight,”” Wald said of Tecnet. “”They’re a phone call away, they’re always there and the answer is always ‘yes.’ They can tweak it if we need it tweaked.””
As for Tecnet, it hopes to win another B.C. deal: It’s a partner in a bid for the workstation support contract.