Keeping track of thousands of computers and multiple IT systems was not a high priority at the Prudential Insurance Company of America in the mid-1990s. But that all changed in 1998, as the Newark, N.J., insurance giant geared up to confront the potential Y2K crisis. The company’s decision to add asset management software to its arsenal of IT solutions is still paying dividends today, in ways beyond what it originally expected.
Until a few years ago, Prudential system manager Tom Arner says, inventories of computer equipment and software were “managed manually, if at all.” The company made no great push to restore order to the relative chaos until a Y2K vendor suggested Prudential needed to account for its computer assets to determine which systems needed to be made Y2K compliant. The vendor suggested Tangram, a Cary, N.C., maker of asset management software being used by 24 of the Fortune 100 companies.
Prudential, which last year had $2.3 billion in revenue, was hardly alone. Many companies have poor, if any, systems in place to track IT assets. Even the FBI recently was forced to acknowledge it was unable to account for 184 of its computers. “We were shocked that most companies didn’t know how many computers they had, let alone what software was on them or what was licensed,” says Steve Kuekes, Tangram’s founder and CTO.
Prudential ultimately implemented Tangram’s Asset Insight software to track some 60,000 individual assets worldwide. As it turned out, helping with Y2K was but one of several benefits to adopting the software, which Tangram sells on a per-seat basis.
First, Prudential was finally able to get a handle on all its diverse pieces of hardware, as well as its software licenses. Because Tangram is cross-platform, Prudential was able to track tens of thousands of desktop PCs, Unix and Windows NT servers, Macs, and Linux systems. Even older PCs running OS/2 and Windows for Workgroups were tracked.
Built on an Oracle SQL database, Tangram Asset Insight tracks assets on the network and generates custom reports. “A side benefit is that we’re able to see what systems are actually being used or inactive and also track virus penetration,” Arner says. Because some viruses leave a specific “footprint,” or file, on the hard drive, Tangram can be set to look for that file and identify dormant but potentially deadly programs before they are activated. “We can also check to see everyone has the most current virus protection,” Arner adds. “It’s not what we originally envisioned (Tangram) for, but it’s very useful.”
Prudential was particularly attracted to Tangram because of its extensive reporting capabilities. Arner recalls that, when Prudential was shopping for an asset management tool, most of Tangram’s competitors offered databases that didn’t automatically generate reports, meaning the information would have to be filtered and extracted. Prudential links Asset Insight to its human resources databases to get an accurate count of how many and which computers each department and business unit is using.
“To be able to do that accurately on a monthly basis instead of having technicians walking around collecting data is a big cost recovery,” Arner says.
Pricing varies depending on the asset being tracked, but Tangram says the average for an ongoing license is a one-time charge of $25 per asset. While Prudential declined to state the value of its contract, at Tangram’s average price it would be worth $1.5 million.
Companies can also use Asset Insight to see which licensed programs are actually being used. “Someone may have a licensed copy of a program they’re not using that would be put to better use by someone else,” notes Tangram’s Kuekes.
Prudential has moved deliberately to seed Asset Insight throughout its worldwide network. Arner notes it generally takes between two and three days to get Asset Insight up and running on several thousand desktops at one of Prudential’s divisions. “In general the user is not involved except for a brief interview screen that needs to be filled out. We get out a memorandum to everyone ahead of time so they aren’t surprised,” Arner says.
Arner himself has been pleasantly surprised with Tangram’s responsiveness. For example, Asset Insight originally came with a proprietary reporting tool. “We asked for a Web-based browser reporting tool, and that’s what they gave us with the current version. It’s much easier to use.”
Like many large companies, Prudential isn’t about to turn on a dime to adopt the latest technology before its reliability and value are proven. Windows XP, for example, is not on Prudential’s near-term horizon. In fact, the company is just starting a migration to Windows 2000 — with the help of Asset Insight, which will identify what computers on the network are ready for the new operating system, and which need to be replaced or upgraded.
That’s just another way Prudential continues to get bang for its Y2K buck.
David Needle is a Silicon Valley-based freelance writer who has covered technology since 1981.