When is the coffee machine an IT problem?

Snow's Victoria Barber looks at the difficult question of what a technology asset actually is.

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn by Snow’s Victoria Barber.

This was my 9th year presenting at Gartner’s IT Sourcing, Procurement, Vendor & Asset Management Summit (OK, so technically it was only my second at this specific event, but before the IT Financial, Procurement & Asset Management Summit was combined with the Sourcing & Vendor Management Summit I’d presented at the latter every year of my time at Gartner). And it was my second year as a vendor speaker rather than a Gartner speaker.

I’ve mentioned before that the event is very different as an attendee than as an analyst. While it’s difficult to decide which sessions to attend (and I’m still playing catch-up on recordings from various events), there is far more free time to network than I was aware of when rushing from presentation to workshop to roundtable to 1on1 room and back as an analyst. Likewise it’s different as a vendor speaker – I only had one presentation to deliver, which meant I also had time to spend with my colleagues on the Snow Software booth talking to delegates about their concerns and challenges around managing digital technology.

One of the topics that is raised regularly in different contexts is the issue of what a technology asset actually is. This can come up in all sorts of situations – as an analyst covering IT and software asset management I regularly spoke to clients about how they could define what should and should not be within their remit, and since moving on this questions has been asked by prospects, customers and audiences at a range of events from the MDM & Information Management Summit in Chicago in July to the Dallas Gartner event when it came up in Tim Zimmerman’s IoT session (‘Just because the coffee machine is networked does that mean it’s an IT responsibility?’)

It’s likely that every organisation will have a different range of technology that it needs to manage, and different criteria for determining what needs to be managed. There is not necessarily a correct answer to the ‘what counts as a tech asset and what should we be managing?’ question. As I sat down to write this post, I realised that I wrote about this back in March of 2018, but the issue bears revisiting (and I realise that by including the link I’m opening myself to being called out on any inconsistency in my approach!) because it isn’t simple to resolve, and IoT is only going to add to the confusion.

We’ve seen the terms SAM & ITAM causing problems because certain types of technology (SaaS, cloud, business-sourced solutions) don’t fit within the traditional definitions of ‘IT’ ‘Software’ or ‘Asset’. And what we’re trying to do isn’t necessarily manage them. When we built out the new ITAM maturity model at we ended up with the top of the curve being ‘digital technology governance’ because we felt that this was a clearer description of what organisations are trying to achieve. They need to provide a framework to ensure that there is consistency in the way that digital technology of all kinds is managed, but don’t necessarily want ITAM to take on accountability for the day to day management of digital technology that falls outside the traditional remit of IT (like the coffee machine).

The ‘Digital Dragons’ keynote at the Gartner ITSPVAM summit (delivered by Leigh McMullen in Dallas, and by Dave Aron in London) highlighted this need to change our perception of what an asset is in the technology space using the example of a smartphone. A smartphone is a commodity item worth a few hundred pounds/euros/dollars/currency of your choice, but the fact that it has a library of 30-odd thousands songs on it makes it significantly more valuable to the user. Likewise we don’t need to know about the coffee machine being on the network because of the cost of the machine – the value of the machine is in it’s ability to provide us with a constant supply of coffee.

While discussion with colleagues a couple of years ago concluded that a technology asset doesn’t derive it’s need to be managed from its direct monetary value (cost, or cost of replacement) but from the value it does (or should) create, which is derived from the value of the information that it contains or provides access to. This doesn’t necessarily simplify the issue. As Doug Laney has pointed out, accountants haven’t really got their heads round how to value information – in fact, he’s developed the concept of ‘Infonomics’ to address this, and there’s a whole book about it if you want to know more! Which means we don’t always have a straightforward monetary value to link our digital technology to. Both CDOs and IT leaders are being held back by this missing information. Once we can value information effectively, we can then start to have conversations about digital technology in terms of business value and cross the divide between IT and our business colleagues to allow much more effective integration and collaboration. And we’ll all understand the value of knowing all about the coffee machine on the network, and what it knows about us.