IT asset management

THE CHALLENGE

From computer monitors to scan guns to printers to software, it can be a challenge to track the entire lifecycle of a given piece of equipment. Equipment migrates from one building to another without the knowledge of the IT administrators. The technicians need a system that is simple, sustainable, and integrated into their current process. 

 

Solving this challenge results with accurate budgeting, a reduction in multiple asset purchases, and Sephora would know with greater accuracy the landscape of their equipment (e.g. what can/not be redeployed). 

APPROACH & KEY INSIGHTS

I interviewed the managerial staff to determine the current workflow and what was need from the asset management process/system. I also performed contextual inquiry sessions with the technicians to determine their workflow. They wanted a system that could:

 

  • record assets by scanning them

  • run reports for budgetary reasons

  • be easily implemented; will minimally disrupt the technicians’ current workflow

  • be flexible and integrate across a spectrum of assets and not just limited to one or two

  • is cost contained

THE SOLUTION

I proposed and created a workflow that used their existing workflow as a basis, highlighted business decisions for the company to consider or be aware of and started the vetting process for vendors who could potentially provide a solution that was tailored to Sephora’s needs. 

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CONTEXT & CHALLENGES

Sephora is a 4 billion dollar company that has seen double-digit growth for the past dozen years or so. Their challenge was to scale their infrastructure to keep pace with the growth. Much of the record-keeping became ad hoc and the systems are either few (spreadsheets are standard) or not user-friendly.

 

Despite the size and age of the company, the pace of work at Sephora is more like a startup than a highly-structured, mature corporation. Therefore solutions must accommodate a quick and chaotic workflow. Documentation, like many places, is secondary in priority, the first being “GSD” (Getting Sh*t Done). Sephora realized that not having a robust asset management process/system was going to be a hindrance as the company ramps up to double in size over the next few years. 

 

I went in with the premise that disrupting their current workflow and implementing new behavioral changes is less productive than tweaking and building on current workflows.

DISCOVER

I used interviews and contextual inquiry for my research. I interviewed:

  • The asset director

  • The asset manager

  • Various IT technicians who handle the assets

From them, I discovered the current tracking flow and system and found their pain points. 

 

Questions of interest were

  • What key features do each stakeholder group value?

  • Which features are necessary and which are “nice to haves?”

  • What is the current asset management flow, where are the rest points (when the asset stays in one location for an extended period)?

  • At what points is the flow most likely to run into issues? 

  • Is there an existing app/software package that can capture the top needs of all stakeholders or will the solution need to be built.

USER INTERVIEWS

I interviewed the asset director and manager what were their pain points and needs. The manager walked me through the current tracking process and the spreadsheet currently utilized to log all assets. This gave me a basis of understanding not only their needs but gave me foundational knowledge to understand how to speak with the technicians.  

CONTEXTUAL INQUIRIES

I followed technicians as they changed out computers, monitors, assessed printers and other devices. They showed me the system used to log technical activities and their pain points. They wanted an asset management workflow that is simple, scalable and integrated into their current logging system.

SYNTHESIS

From the contextual inquiries and interviews, my findings include: 

  • When the technician is in the field, they manually record the asset serial number, making records prone to recording error.

  • There are some assets such as monitors that don’t have readily identifiable features other than a generic model and specs. 

  • Assets such as monitors commonly grow “legs” as staff routinely move screens from one location to another, making the asset difficult to track. 

  • Life in the field for the technician is chaotic. The system must be easy for the technicians to use and must provide information so that they see the value in using the system while in the field.

  • The current asset tracking workbook is an Excel worksheet that is manually updated. Moving to a database would allow for more flexibility in recording data.

  • Consistent documentation in the field is the biggest challenge 

  • The new system must have a reporting capability to assist with forecasts and budgeting

IDEATION & ITERATION

Based on the synthesis above, I brainstormed and sketched workflow solutions. I also identified areas that could be made more efficient. In the meantime, I compiled the final list of requested features/functionalities for the asset management system. 

 

From most to least important according to the client

  • Integration with the current tracking system.

  • Can directly scan both a bar code and QR into the system.

  • A user-friendly interface for both users and the administrator

  • Ability to easily pull our data from their system as needed

  • Upgrades to the system are integrated into our package (won’t need to ‘pay to play’ for future updates)

  • Free training 

 

Disaster Recovery considerations

  • Company is not a fly-by-night operation

  • They have primary and backup servers

 

I presented the final version of the solution to the IT director and then proceeded to make inquiries to companies who have existing asset tracking solutions to evaluate for fit. My evaluation of the solutions included sitting through their demos and exploring their sandbox. 

 

I also interviewed lead administrators of the current technician work order system to see how we could integrate their current system with any asset tracking software we might pursue. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOLUTION & DELIVERABLES

Proposed process/flow

  • The key was not overhauling the current system; it was to tweak the current system in the right places to minimize disruption to the technicians’ current workflow. The tweaks included:

    • Assets are labeled with a unique identifying number to track it throughout its life cycle. 

    • Asset management system must integrate with current records. The technician uses the new system app as a recording device.

    • Whenever a tech goes out into the field, they scan the QR / barcode to retrieve or update the device records.

    • When the device is returned the accompanying sticker is scanned, and the status/condition of the asset is recorded.

    • When the device has reached the end of its lifecycle, the technicians use a scan gun to record its exit.

 

Proposed tracking sticker

  • Create tracking stickers that had a QR code with matching barcode and “manual” code. 

    • The barcode is designed for bulk inventorying. 

    • The QR code is designed for the technicians in the field who don't carry barcode scanners.

    • The “manual” code is the numbers at the bottom of the sticker  for when scanning devices fail. 

  • The sticker is designed to allow IT the freedom to position the sticker on a variety of devices.

  • Bulk-creating the stickers prior to their use allows for workflow efficiency. 

 

Write-up included

  • Discussing the pros and cons of the workflow and the decision process of coming to the workflow.

  • Areas to be aware of when deciding on an asset management system.

  • Recommendations moving forward.

LEARNINGS

Challenges

  • The biggest challenge was sourcing the software and miscommunication with the vendors who was not interested in speaking with anyone outside of the Sephora IT department. It required the intervention of IT on my behalf before the vendors responded to emails and phone calls. 

 

Good Stuff

  • I really enjoyed the elegance of the process flow. The fact that there was minimal changes and yet can create a significant impact on the process is exciting. 

 

Key Metrics

  • I left the company in November at which time I was told that the funding for implementing this project would come from their 2017 budget. While they are ready to implement, the team currently lacks the bandwidth. 

TESTIMONIALS

“You helped clarify how to think about approaching this problem."

Orlando Correa, Sephora IT Manager

“This is really great work."

Kirk Long, Sephora IT Director