What Is IT Asset Discovery & How Does It Work

ITAM Software / February 2024

IT asset discovery is the process of identifying and cataloguing a business’s entire network of IT assets. It is a key element of IT asset management that enables IT managers to oversee owned hardware and software assets whether they’re archived, in use, or in the process of being changed.

The reason for using IT asset discovery tools is to automate an otherwise manual task. Leading to better decision-making, which saves both time and money. It also ensures that asset data is secure and assets, such as software licences, are compliant. In 2016, the UK had the second-highest use of unlicensed software in Europe.

Without an IT asset discovery tool in place – such as IT Asset Management (ITAM) Software – businesses face multiple challenges:

  • Increasing use of unlicensed software
  • Risk of security threats and data leaks
  • Unsuccessful offboarding of employees
  • Failed compliance audits
  • Loss of expensive hardware assets

Essentially, there are two cost-effective and high-impact solutions to reduce these risks; frequent employee training and deploying an efficient IT asset discovery tool.

How Does IT Asset Discovery Work?

IT asset discovery is set up to scan for, identify, and map devices on a company-wide network. It’ll use an active or passive technique to gather detailed information. Including an asset’s IP address, manufacturer, activity time, and subnet.

For smaller operations, discovery tools can be installed on specific assets such as mobile devices.

These tools are used to locate, monitor, and provide status updates. This could be a manual process, which is complex and time-consuming, or an automated one. The latter helps to pull asset data into a specified agent, which will be either an agent-based monitoring tool or an agentless one.

Once deployed, the tool is configured to scan and locate new IT assets on your network. That also includes pre-installed software and SaaS products. This provides enterprises with regular updates on asset data, which is then collected and stored in an IT asset management system.

With an IT asset discovery tool in place, businesses can benefit from features such as:

  • Troubleshooting devices
  • Mapping networks
  • Detecting vulnerable or outdated software
  • Audit compliance
  • Software license management
  • Identifying attempted hacking and data breaches

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What Is Active and Passive IT Asset Discovery?

Active IT Asset Discovery: Active, or standard, asset discovery involves a ping and response process for each asset on your network. Not only does this entail multiple configuration inputs, but it can also impact the speed of your network.

Passive IT Asset Discovery: A passive asset discovery technique requires each device to be able to send syslogs. It is a more efficient method that listens for activities being broadcast within a network. This means less bandwidth consumption and greater discovery of live and historical information.

5 Benefits of Deploying an IT Asset Discovery Tool

1. Ensure Compliant Software Is Being Used

Asset discovery tools are used for tracking hardware and monitoring software. That includes both authorised and unauthorised software.

By creating a single source of truth for your IT assets, you can see what software is installed on what devices. As well as who has access to software licenses and what devices are running the latest versions. For instance, seeing who has access to your software keys allows for a quicker and easier off-boarding process.

With a detailed overview of your software assets and licenses, you can better manage risks and enforce policies. This helps to avoid fines for using unlicensed software and reduces the chances of a data breach.

2. Track Hardware in Remote Areas

IT asset discovery originated from the tracking of hardware. Such as computers, printers, scanners, and routers. Today, with an increase in remote working, IT hardware tracking is as important as ever.

Asset discovery tools perform real-time scanning of a network, providing up-to-date information regarding the whereabouts of hardware. That includes IP addresses, last known activity, and assigned users. As well as the geo-location of certain devices.

3. Improve Time Management

ITAM solutions have been designed to do away with time-consuming manual processes. One of which is the management of IT assets. Automated asset discovery is configured to scan a network for new, existing, and changing assets. Ensuring that your asset data is always up-to-date. Whereas typically, IT asset managers would mark, scan, and tag assets by hand.

4. Visualise Your Entire Network of IT Assets

A key element of asset discovery is gaining complete visibility of your IT estate. With equipment and applications constantly moving in and out of your business, it can be hard to keep track of what you own. But, having complete visibility, enables IT managers to build out a network map. This also helps to ease the process of asset acquisition.

5. Detect Asset Anomalies

The primary function of IT asset discovery is to mitigate security risks. Risks can come in the form of using out-of-date software, data leaks, and hacks through installing vulnerable applications. Performing regular network scans and receiving up-to-date data can help prevent this.

By having a centralised database of all your catalogued assets, you can detect behavioural changes when they first occur. Allowing you to flag and resolve issues before they escalate.

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What’s the Difference Between Asset Discovery & Inventory Management?

Asset discovery is the initial step that helps to build a detailed inventory management database. Discovery tools identify the assets and an inventory management system organises them. Both of these practices are typically incorporated in modern ITAM and ITSM solutions. As well as some software asset management tools.

Asset Discovery Is: The starting point for identifying and monitoring IT assets on your network infrastructure.

Inventory Management Is: A system that stores all asset information from multiple sources in one readable format to be actioned and reported on.

A CMDB Is: A configuration management database used to store information about an IT environment. Its functions include discovering, controlling, and keeping track of relationships between IT assets and highlighting their individual configurations.


What Are the Best IT Asset Discovery Tools?

Determining the best IT asset discovery tool for your business depends on factors such as budget, users, industry, and requirements. Either way, the best tools for monitoring IT assets are IT asset management systems. These inlcude:

  • License Dashboard
  • Snow Software
  • SySaid
  • Ivanti
  • Lansweeper

What’s the Difference Between Agent-Based and Agentless Asset Discovery?

Agent-Based IT Asset Discovery tools use software agents to discover information about IT assets by installing agents on each device.
Agentless IT Asset Discovery tools refrain from installing software agents on devices and instead rely on using network scanning tools to identify IT assets.