Effective Inventory Management

Posted August 20th, 2008 by

So what exactly is a “system”?  After all this time, it’s still probably one of the most misunderstood ways that we manage security in the Government.

The short answer is this:  a system is what you say it is.  Long answer is it depends on the following factors:

  • Maturity of your agency
  • Budget processes and Exhibit 300s
  • The extent of your common controls
  • Political boundaries between inter-agency organizations
  • Agency missions
  • Amount of highly-regulated data such as PII or financial

Yes, this all gets complicated.  But really, whatever you say is a system is a system, the designation is just for you so you can manage the enterprise in pieces.  There are 3 main techniques that I use to determine what is a system:

  • As a budget line-item: If it has an Exhibit 300, then it’s a system.  This works better for Plan of Actions and Milestones (POA&Ms) but in reality there might not be a 1:1 correllation between systems and Exhibit 300s.
  • As a data type: If it has a particular type of data, then it’s a system.  This works well for special-purpose systems or where a type of data is regulated, such as PII or financial data.
  • As a project or program: if it’s the same people that built it and maintain it, then it’s a system.  This dovetails in nicely with any kind of SDLC or with any kind of outsourcing.


Inventory photo by nutmeg.

Inventory management techniques that work:

  • Less systems are better.  Each system incurs overhead in effort and cost.
  • More systems works when you have no idea what is out there, but will cripple you in the long term because of the overhead.
  • Start with many systems, assess each as its own piece, then consolidate them into a general support system or common controls package.
  • Set a threshold for project size in either pieces of hardware or dollar value.  If the project exceeds that threshold, then it’s a system.
  • Determine if something will be a system when the budget request is made.  Good CISOs realize this and have a place on the investment control board or capital planning investment board.

Guerilla CISO war story time:

Way back when all this was new, one of the agency CISOs would have a roundtable every quarter or so.  Won’t name who, but some of my blog readers do.  Almost every meeting devolved at some point into the time-honored sticking point of “what is a system?”  Everybody wanted to know if they had “2 servers, 3 PCs, a database, a dog, and a dickfore”, was that a system.  After one too many iterations, the gray-hair in the group would put up “Exhibit 300=System” on the whiteboard before every meeting.  Then when the inevitable conversation of “what is a system?” would come up, he would just point to the board.

And another story:

Several years ago I was working an IT outsourcing contract with an inventory that was determined using the budget line-item technique.  Turned out we had all sorts of systems, some of which didn’t make sense, like the desktop client to manage the local admin account.  One of my first priorities was to consolidate as many systems as I could.  Not that I was altruistic about saving money or anything, it was that the less systems I had, the less paperwork needed to be generated. =)   Most of the systems I rolled up into a general support system aimed at basic user connectivity.

Similar Posts:

Posted in FISMA | No Comments »

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.

Visitor Geolocationing Widget: