There is no question in the IT industry today an effective and actionable configuration management system (CMS) can provide a lot of value. However, a CMS cannot stand alone. It should be supported by a well defined process and provide integration with other processes within the service lifecycle.
Without setting appropriate expectations, your CMS could become a “junk drawer” — an unorganized system with incomplete information and no management of the items placed within it. In this article, we will first define the components of configuration management and then describe five expected outcomes or benefits.
Building an effective and actionable CMS requires one to understand the fundamentals of configuration management. The v3 release of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) further clarifies the concepts of configuration management. It separates the process into the three major components (Figure 1).
As you can see, there are three major components of configuration management:
Configuration management databases (CMDB) -This component is the data layer of the system. In previous versions of ITIL, the CMDB was the only component. This created confusion in that it appeared to be one unit. The reality is that many IT organizations have distributed systems that house configuration data such as network, server and storage data; however, these systems were not integrated and did not create a single view or access point.
Additionally, the management of the data was not shared across the organization. These distributed CMDBs are the building blocks and source information that feed the next layer, the configuration management system. Configuration management system (CMS) – This component is where data is turned into information. To understand this component of CMS, think of it like a concierge at a hotel. One of the best ways to get information at the hotel is to go the concierge, which is a focal point for all the services the hotel offers.
CMS acts like the hotel concierge. It is the component that holds information relating to all the CMDBs. In order for it to be effective, it must have information on where all the CMDBs are located. It is not necessarily a repository where all the CMDBs are replicated; it is more a mechanism to identify where the data sources are held.
Going back to the hotel example, the concierge does not manage the data available in the CMDBs, he or she only accesses and uses it to provide services to the customer. Service knowledge management system (SKMS) – This component turns information into knowledge. The purpose of this component is to synthesize the information contained in the CMS and CMDBs and use it to make the right decisions related to services.
To gain better understanding of this component, think about what physicist and priest William Pollard once said: “Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden not a benefit.”
The SKMS interacts with the CMS to use and correlate service information. In order to effectively gain value from the SKMS, defining services and their components are the activities that will help organize information in the CMS.
Now that we know the three components of configuration management, there are five ways data, information and knowledge should provide value:
Managing outages – The information within the CMS can be used to determine impact, urgency, priority, scope, service level information, effected customers/users, recent changes or workarounds/fixes. Having this information available when managing an outage can help to decrease restoration time, and therefore, have less impact to customers.
Conversely, imagine what happens when the appropriate information is not available. Restoration teams spend more time gathering the necessary information and must leverage tribal knowledge, while users are impacted by the outage. After service is restored, the CMS should also be used to capture all information related to the resolution for future use.