The spy who loves you

Written by Lee Oliver


When a salesman came touting the virtues of a new computer asset-management service, Carlos Almeida was suspicious. As the IT manager of Goldcorp Inc., a Toronto-based mining concern, Almeida had heard dozens of similar claims …  With the flick of a switch this software can scan your system and instantly inform you where security and software patches are needed, report on the status of all software licences, tell you where unauthorized programs have been downloaded to individual PCs, help you plan software migrations, root out worms, spyware and other malicious code, save the world, change lead to gold, blah, blah, blah.

But Almeida listened to the pitch. After all, he was spending $10,500 a year in man-hours just tracking and updating the 50 PCs in Goldcorp’s head office, so he was open to any opportunity to reduce that cost. “Plus,” Almeida admits, “there are so many patches and upgrades and conflicting software packages out there that even the most seasoned IT gurus can be overwhelmed by it all. Anything that can properly simplify the challenge is worth a look.” As well, Almeida harbored a faint hope that eventually some bright software type would come up with a product that could fulfill the claims.

The salesperson, who happened to be flogging LiveInventory from Toronto-based Softchoice Inc., promised he was not exaggerating. With a simple, instantaneous pulse, LiveInventory would course through Goldcorp’s computer network, identify and categorize more than 120,000 unique software applications from more than 16,500 vendors, and then tell Almeida exactly what he needed to act on. The cost? An affordable $20 a year per computer.

Still, Almeida was doubtful. “I had used a variety of similar software before, so my level of skepticism was very, very high,” he says. “They were all fairly clunky and unmanageable. So when it was first introduced to me, it was more of me thinking, ‘Okay, here we go, this thing is going to do absolutely nothing for me. But I’ll take a look’.” One demonstration later, Almeida was hooked and Goldcorp signed on as a happy customer.


For Almeida, the difference between LiveInventory and the other “clunky” approaches he had tried in the past lies in the fact that the system is a managed service. The software is run remotely from the Softchoice offices, and doesn’t even require a designated server in-house.

“I don’t need to dedicate any effort internally to keep it up to date. And there is no overhead in terms of bandwidth use,” says Almeida. “Where other systems bogged down the system, this runs seamlessly because it’s not using any of my resources.”

Almeida uses the service for three main purposes: to ensure licensed software is being used according to the terms of the licences; to facilitate upgrades and avoid software conflicts; and to ensure system security by locating worms, viruses, spyware and unauthorized peer-to-peer file-sharing.

But the service performs other vital functions. According to Softchoice product manager Edwin Jansen, it can give you a definitive snapshot of what you’ll need when you are doing a mass upgrading of your network. “When you have to figure out which machines need to be replaced, which can be upgraded with a bit of extra memory, and how much it’s going to cost in software, hardware, services and installation,” says Jansen, “we’ll plug in the variables, run a pulse and give you all the answers within a day.”

Apart from telling you what you have and where it is, LiveInventory also tracks usage. This means you can redistribute hardware and software based on use rather than purchasing a new product every time someone requests it — which can be an extremely costly oversight. According to Connecticut-based technology research firm Gartner Inc., through 2003, enterprises that failed to integrate software contract and inventory data to manage their software assets overbought on 60% of their portfolio and were out of compliance on an alarming 30%.

“We run a pretty tight ship, so I was already keeping track of what we had,” says Almeida. “But if your company has gone through a couple of IT managers in the past few years, this service could be invaluable.”

Another valuable use of LiveInventory involves technology leases. If you lease hardware, you are contractually obliged to return it in exactly the same condition in which you leased it — no upgrades, no extra software, no additional components. LiveInventory lets you take a snapshot of the leased machines in pristine condition. Then, before the lease expires, you’ll receive notification telling you exactly when the machine must be returned and what needs to be removed or replaced to put it back to original.


For Almeida, the $1,000 investment he made in Live Inventory (50 machines at $20 per) paid off immediately. “The $10,500 we were spending on tracking and updating dropped to $2,500. We went from spending two hours a day keeping track of the system to less than two hours a month.” Plus, the outsourced service allowed him to remove the on-site asset-management program he was using before, freeing up 4% of his network’s resources (a significant number for IT types). Goldcorp now plans to roll out the service to its three mining sites, which comprise an additional 200 PCs.

But the biggest payoff for Almeida is peace of mind. “It’s such a challenge to figure out what is good, what is bad, what works and what doesn’t that when you do hit on the right tech solution, peace of mind becomes the end product,” he explains. “Ultimately, you’re trying to minimize risk, including the risk of making the wrong tech purchase and ending up with software that doesn’t deliver.”

Watch your assets

Not ready to bring in an asset-management service? Then here are eight tasks you’ll need to perform regularly to keep your computers in check

  1. Run virus checks daily, if not more frequently.
  2. Ban file-sharing among employees; movies and music can really bog down your system.
  3. Keep software up to date with latest security patches and upgrades.
  4. Track licensing fees for software and pay them when they are due.
  5. Monitor software usage patterns and identify where licences can be reclaimed or reallocated.
  6. Set Windows-based computers to automatically notify users when patches and fixes become available.
  7. Apply all of the above to machines beyond the desktop, such as PDAs.
  8. Back up your files regularly, because computer disasters can strike at any time. — Rebecca Gardiner
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