Start simple: a corporate desktop/laptop refresh model

Here’s a topic that frankly shouldn’t even merit a post — it’s that much of a no-brainer if you think about it.

Yet, in the real world, I’ve found that it’s anything but a no-brainer, at both small and large companies.  What I’m referring to is the need for organizations to track their laptops and desktops.

Shockingly, many/most organizations don’t do even close to a satisfactory job at this.  The U.S. State Department recently made the news for losing track of as many as 10,000 laptops.

OK, chalk that up to government, perhaps.  But admittedly, in any bustling, active enterprise, keeping tabs on machines, and who’s using what, isn’t a cakewalk. Even Microsoft has its issues in this arena, and turns to “rolling its own” applications as a stopgap.

Astonishingly, most organizations I’ve observed:

  • Don’t know how many machines they actually have
  • Don’t know their current penetration of laptops vs. desktops
  • Tend to budget by the seat of their pants for replacements for the coming year
  • Can’t tell you precisely where a specific purchased asset has been deployed
  • Don’t know the “aging profile” of their population of desktops and laptops (e.g., how many are more than a year old)
  • Don’t relate the actual handling of the asset (e.g., replacement after three years) to the financial handling (e.g., spreading the capital expense over three years from an accounting perspective). Replacement tends to be demand-driven, meaning (usually) crisis-driven.
  • Don’t have a solid process, or any process, for decommissioning a machine that is past its useful life.
  • Don’t have the ability to tell a given employee when his or her machine will be replaced.

The impacts of all of these aspects of neglecting this key area?  Chiefly, the impacts are financial (loss through “leakage”, potential overbuying, lack of optimization, increase in service costs, inability to plan and budget accurately), but also security plays a part.  When you don’t know what you have or where it has gone, your company is exposed in many ways.  So most of all, it’s key to recognize that basic tracking like this is a key fiduciary responsibility for the whole company, and it’s in your house.  Moreover, it shouldn’t be something you have to spend a lot of time thinking about — it needs to be baked into what you do as a department.

The obvious key solution here is IT asset management (ITAM), which is a much broader topic than I’ll be delving into right now.  In fact, that breadth is part of the problem: if you’re proceeding on this from a point at or near stage zero as an organization, you’ll probably feel a bit daunted as you do some basic reading.  You’ll learn that asset management isn’t nearly as simple as keeping a list of your assets; to do a complete job, at some point you’ll need to worry about things like procurement, discovery tools, request and approval process, disposal management, and so on.

So, if you’re hanging your head right now and admitting that perhaps your company falls into the syndrome I’m describing, it probably feels to you like it’d be a huge project to get a better handle on your desktop and laptop assets.  But it isn’t, not if you focus on that key word “better”. Yes, it would be best to do a careful asset management package survey and evaluation, selecting just the right tool for your needs, and attempting to consider the full scope of ITAM.  But don’t let that hold you back, because the fruits of all that won’t be there for months. You can get 80% of the way there with a relatively minimal amount of effort, and it will surely be better than chaos. In short, if you’re grossly deficient in this area right now, it’s actually best not to jump right into a commitment toward an expensive package and implementation.  Work on your process gaps first.  As I’m fond of saying, “it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.”


  • Begin to look into asset management software (see some of the links below)
  • Don’t be paralyzed by not having chosen a suitable package yet. Dive in anyway.  Don’t let best get in the way of better.
  • Recognize that (as with most things in IT), the work that needs to be done is way more about establishing a repeatable and logical business process than it is about obtaining and using a given tool.
  • Work on getting a valid inventory of your current machines; that’s a manual process anyway.  Focus on the true basics:  machine ID, “birth” date, type (laptop or desktop), and current holder.
  • Establish a reliable, airtight business process for adds and deletes from this inventory.  Make sure you will have a reliable master view at any point in time.  Make sure that nothing leaves or enters the pool of machines without it being reflected in the inventory.
  • For now, stick with a simple approach: just use a spreadsheet to capture and analyze this data.  It can do a lot for you, all the way from basic inventory management and providing basic breakdowns, to helping you with your replacement strategy and budget.  An example is contained in the attached spreadsheet model, offered under a Creative Commons license for your use and adaptation as you see fit.
  • The spreadsheet is designed to help answer basic questions about your machine inventory, including but not limited to examples like the following:
    • How many laptops do I have that are over two years old?
    • How much should I budget next year for machines, assuming I switch out desktops after three years and laptops after two years?
    • When is a given machine due to be replaced?
    • What’s my laptop penetration (laptops as a percentage of total machines)?  How is that due to change, based on my other assumptions?

Do you have a success story from your company with respect to the tracking and handling of laptops and desktops?  I’d like to hear about it!


Sample “asset management light” spreadsheet:


  1. Jim Tabor says:

    Great post, and really useful spreadsheet. Your right. None of the companies I’ve been at have managed their desktops and laptops well. None of them could have answered any of your sample questions!

    Here’s my question–if I use the tool you provided, what more do I really need? How would asset management software (more than just a souped-up spreadsheet like you provided) help me further?

  2. Peter Kretzman says:

    Well, a spreadsheet will get you 80-90% of the way there, for sure. What it won’t get you, without being endlessly tweaked and enhanced, is integration with other systems (e.g., HR, Finance), or tracking of other equipment besides just laptops/desktops. A good ITAM system will do “discovery” on your network, which brings you to a whole new level of complexity, data issues, and optimization possibilities.

    My major point in my post is that I’ve seen organizations hold back, wanting to have it all even though they had almost nothing. Hence, “start simple.” But by no means stop there!

    Thanks for the question, Jim.


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