Most districts have accounting systems that do a pretty good job of tracking fixed assets. In fact, specialized accounting packages for the education market make it fairly easy to track data about the number of units and costs of items that are purchased.

But these systems are rarely up to the task of tracking all of the types of information that are needed for effective management of technology assets, an increasingly substantial part of any school’s or district’s asset base.

Currently-used systems often do not capture details about technology assets accurately, overlooking things like warranties or repair records. Many districts require repetitive data entry or the transfer of paper records from each school to a centralized database. Therefore, these data often are out of date or inaccurate, which can be very problematic in a dynamic area such as technology.

Also, if these systems are built on a flawed model, they can result in the miscategorization of certain purchases.

For example, many systems use a basic default that categorizes an item as an "expense" if its cost falls below a certain level; if its cost is above that level, it is an "asset." This assumption is based on historical experience of purchasing classroom items. However, computers and software do not fit neatly into these categories, and often schools will treat an inexpensive technology purchase as an expense when it is really a fixed asset.

Furthermore, the databases in these accounting systems do not capture the wealth of information that is crucial for tracking the upgrade needs of computers, such as warranty information and detailed model and serial numbers.

A good asset management system, for example, can help as administrator instantly determine if a specific server is still under warranty. If it is, then the IT department may be able to call upon free outside technology support to fix the problem.

An effective asset management system allows for the collection of comprehensive information and can be customized to the needs of its users.

Here are some features of an effective asset management system:

• Proper differentiation of types of inventory, particularly consumable inventory (such as toilet paper) and long-term inventory (such as computers). Consumable inventory is usually less costly per item and should be ordered in bulk and stored by the district. Long-term inventory is usually made up of high-cost items that are actually in use at the moment; their whereabouts and state of repair need to be tracked, rather than just their sheer quantity.

• The system must be easy to update. Also, many people in the school or district should be able to update the system. This does not mean that everyone in the district must have access to the system, but it should allow for enough access so that data entry does not become an information bottleneck.

• Staff members need to reconcile information in the system with a physical inventory on a regular basis. This will help remind all employees that they need to keep information up to date, and it will uncover problems while there is still time to solve them.