Centralizing Asset Management Helps Promotional Products Manufacturer Manage Its IT Infrastructure | Article


Centralizing Asset Management Helps Promotional Products Manufacturer Manage Its IT InfrastructureLike many manufacturing organizations, The GEM Group, one of the industry’s oldest makers of promotional products, has embraced innovations in global manufacturing. So it recently opened a facility in China. The company wanted to ramp up that facility’s production. This included improving communication between the company’s Lawrence, Massachusetts, headquarters and its Chinese plant. “As a first step, we needed a comprehensive inventory of the IT assets we had there and their configuration status,” says Ben Messar, Director of IT.

Asset discovery and inventory were important because the manufacturer was changing its IT desktop infrastructure. “We had to make sure their IT infrastructure could handle the changes,” he continues. “Did the computers in Shenzhen have enough memory or power to work in the new IT environment?”

The Chinese situation was actually just part of a larger challenge of IT asset management and software compliance. “To implement new IT systems, it’s vital to know which computers in our environment could absorb the changes and which needed to be upgraded or replaced. Unfortunately, our asset management records were inaccurate at best,” says Messar. “We had to know what impact our new infrastructure would have on the entire company.”

The GEM Group was doing its entire inventory manually. The only software tool it had came from its finance and accounting suite, which tracked asset depreciation.

And that did nothing to check on software compliance. The Business Software Association (BSA), a software industry organization that enforces software license agreements, can assess violating companies fines of between $10,000-$150,000. “Companies don’t want to worry about their software vendors fining them after a surprise visit,” says Jim Obsitnik, Vice President, Marketing for Everdream Corporation, The GEM Group’s desktop management system provider. He points out the BSA offers bounties of up to $250,000 to anyone who provides a licensing violation tip. “You’d better be in compliance if you have made someone mad,” he says.

Security was the final consideration. Traveling executives on the road could inadvertently bring in viruses or leave confidential employee or customer information vulnerable to theft by connecting to the Internet in public spaces. “They couldn’t get their remote mobile systems under control,” says Obsitnik.

Supplier selection

To address its security and compliance challenges, The GEM Group needed an automated IT solution. It started its search by consulting with Gartner. “We saw a lot of household names on the IT asset management outsourcing list. But we had a unique problem: limited funds. We needed a top return on investment for every dollar we spent,” says Messar.

In addition, it had a resource problem: its small IT staff of two people didn’t have much time to manage IT assets. Tracking assets manually had been very time consuming.

The manufacturer also wanted software that was scalable and easy to deploy.

Then he attended Gartner’s Mid-Sized Enterprise Summit in early 2005. He stopped by Everdream’s booth in the exhibit hall. “I was impressed with their approach and didn’t get a nosebleed when I saw the price,” says Messar. The GEM Group came home with a demo disk.

“We noticed immediately how easy it was to use the Everdream tool,” says Paula Weadick, Technical Support Manager.

Outsourcing’s benefits

Using Everdream for the first time, The GEM Group had a clear view of its current infrastructure. This has allowed it to aggregate its IT spend, which “produced significant savings. Outsourcing gave us more buying power as a small company because we now can buy things for everyone as a single purchase,” says Messar. An ancillary benefit: He says it’s easier to get approval from the CFO because “now I have the facts at hand.”

The Everdream application allows The Gem Group’s headquarters to remotely manage the Chinese infrastructure. The IT executives can determine whether the Chinese facility should purchase computers locally or in the United States. “Now we can make good sound financial judgments about the IT assets in China,” says Messar. For the first time, The GEM Group can make centralized decisions. “Before, they just bought what they needed.”

The GEM Group’s IT staff leverage the on-demand nature of the Everdream solution to gain visibility and make changes across all computers on the company’s network with a Web browser. “IT staff can make sure the virus definitions are up to date from any location, 24/7,” says Obsitnik.

Now it’s easy to add applications to desktops. In the past, The GEM Group installed an application and then had to dispatch help to those who couldn’t load it. Now it remotely loads an application via the Internet behind the scenes with no user intervention and every computer can use it.

“I did asset/patch management,” says Weadick. “This application has saved me an immeasurable amount of time and stress,” she says.

Everdream provides a back-up service that allows The GEM Group to back up or restore a laptop anywhere in the world. This solved a challenge with the company’s peripatetic executives. “We constantly had to chase them to back up their machines,” says Messar. “Now we have a tool that makes back-up more predictable.”

The GEM Group can now provide more support with the same number of employees. Obsitnik says the manufacturer can grow by 38 percent before needing another staffer.

The bottom line: outsourcing saved the manufacturer bottom-line cash. Obsitnik says the manufacturer saves $154,000 a year, which produces a 475 percent return on investment.

“Outsourcing has allowed us to become proactive in our asset management. We’ve stopped reacting,” Messar reports. Now he has the time “to develop the best IT strategy” and work with vendors “to get the best price.”

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • Manufacturers with multiple production facilities need to have a centralized view of the operation. That becomes trickier when one of the facilities is in another country. Using the Everdream service allows a Massachusetts company to manage IT desktops in China.
  • Companies need to monitor software license compliance because they can incur large fines if they don’t. Outsourcing allows this manufacturer to stay on top of license compliance.
  • Centralizing asset management allows The GEM Group to aggregate spend, giving it more buying power in the market. It now can save money by making group purchases.
  • The manufacturer was able to assess a major IT infrastructure change before doing it by getting a true picture of its assets in the field.

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