This article is the first in a five part series. It is my intention to present you with another use for your SMS inventory and as a result promote new, creative and interesting project initiatives in the community and within your company. To have such a reliable inventory database at your fingertips opens the door for many opportunities to build more efficient management systems. I wish to introduce my corporate environment as a case example for how such a system can be implemented. It is more than likely that you already have many databases being maintained in your company that could provide you with an opportunity to build an integrated system that makes full use of your company's information stores.
Hopefully, this article or case study will prove useful in opening your mind to such possibilities and to push innovation to its limits. Is it not all about innovation? Plus, it is always nice to see a breakdown of how one company actually goes about developing such a solution.
In this first article, I will simply go through a case overview and the future articles will break down from there and continue in much more detail. In order to properly assess and present a case, it is best to first identify the problem that currently exists in the case environment. A solution will then be presented as to how we intend to solve this problem and what (re)sources are required. As a first submission to the series I will be looking at the top-level design of what is involved in getting such a project started and then I will begin to add more detail in the upcoming articles.
The problem we are facing: Currently our IT Administration team is using a Microsoft Access database for asset management and charge backs. The information tracked in this database is internal hardware and software data (ie: equipment, serial #, license), associated cost center, lease, costing, and employee information. This method is relying on the accuracy of data entry and does not provide great detail or reporting. Also, this solution does not help to streamline the workflow process and to assist in preparing for upcoming desktop rollouts.
Our concept: To develop a reliable Inventory Management System (IMS), while using our currently maintained databases as a reliable source of data for hardware, software, cost center and employee information. This new Inventory Management System will provide for a higher level of detailed reporting than our existing solution and a foundation to customize for any future customizations.
How it works: We currently have four data sources that are accurately maintained. These sources will be used to provide us with a reliable source of data for IMS, which will eliminate as much data entry as possible and thus human error. These are the different sources we will be using: SMS, PeopleSoft, Exchange, a Property-services database and Altiris. Your company may have different sources for data as you will discover a little later on.
I will now give you a brief summary of each of the data sources and how we plan to use each of them in the IMS solution. These will give you a good overview of how a solution such as this all ties together before we go in to detail on how a company might go about developing such a solution.
SMS provides us with detailed inventory of hardware, software and profile information, PeopleSoft for accurate cost centre information, Exchange for detailed employee information, Property Services database for asset location information and Altiris to pull and hold all this data. Our web interface will interact with the Altiris database, therefore the Altiris database will be the primary database for our solution. Dont get too hung up on all the lingo for now, since I will break down the framework for you a little later.
For the purposes of clarification, I will briefly explain what each of the products are that we will be tapping into in order to develop a reliable solution.
Our primary database is the Altiris database. Basically Altiris can be a number of different things since their product offering is quite diverse. However, in our case environment, we only wanted Altiris to pull, track and manage our inventory data. Altiris goes beyond just tracking standard hardware and software as SMS does; it also collects Exchange profile information, serial numbers and MAC addresses. More importantly, it provides comprehensive reporting capabilities with numerous pre-canned web reports with the ability to "drill down" from their summary statistics. Also, Altiris allows for easy custom reports which are all web-based and generated on the fly. All of these features will be essential when we begin to design IMS as you will see later on.
For now, all you really need to know is that we want Altiris to collect inventory data and stores it in its own database. Now, at this point you may be asking why we would want to do this if we have SMS? The answer is, we require the level of inventory detail that Altiris collects and its ability for detailed web reports. You will see how IMS makes use of this information later on in the development phase.
The next most important database is our connection to PeopleSoft, which provides us with cost centre and the associated departmental manager information. Some people may want to use their Exchange database as a source for their cost centre information as their company may maintain this information in the Exchange profiles under the extended profile attributes. It doesn't matter where you have this information stored, as long as it is accurately maintained and you can port in to it. You can port in to just about any data source.
For those of you that are not familiar with Exchange, it is simply a mail server that holds detailed information about your mailbox users, such as Name, Extension, Department, Section and Floor. You can customize additional attributes in the profile to add cost centre and other values you feel are important. Exchange user profile information is maintained by our Systems Administrators and we will use this as a source for IMS.
Next, we have a Property Services database, which will provide us with information on Employee location, right down to the Floor #. This information will be useful when we are doing desktop rollouts in the near future.
We can go on and on about which databases will be used and which tables we will be porting in to, but you will see a lot more detail later on. Let me just briefly say that we are planning on using the other databases such as Exchange, Property Services database and SMS for cost centre and employee information only for the purposes of more detailed information. The reason we came to the conclusion of using these databases was for the sole purpose of having accurate information. Plus, we had many dilemmas to work through as you will see later and we will also explain how to go about eliminating them in your own environment.
When you decide to build a similar solution for your company, you must first look at the different data sources your solution will require as we did above. It is important that each of these sources are accurate and maintained so you are not duplicating any data in your solution. If one data source is already maintaining accurate Employee information, it makes sense to port in to this data source and utilize this data. That being said, let me show you a mapping of the different databases involved thus far:
The purpose of this diagram is to just give you a vision of what we are developing. Our actual framework has changed slightly which is not updated in this diagram, but this should give you a general idea of what we are trying to accomplish here.
In our next article we will begin to look at how we will customize Altiris and port in to the other databases in preparation for development. Please feel free to email me if you wish to see a particular angle or level of detail in the upcoming articles.