Taking the pain out of implementing configuration management systems

Taking the pain out of implementing configuration management systems

Configuration management systems (CMS) are the bedrock of IT service management (ITSM); they provide the tools and databases to hold and manage all the necessary information about the assets used to deliver IT services – hardware, software, network equipment, processes, services – including all the information ITSM practitioners need to do their jobs. The databases in a CMS basically provide a library of information; instead of storing all the information in our heads, we have access to a database containing everything we need to know.

However, some ITSM practitioners have a tendency to overcomplicate configuration management (CM), and forget why they are capturing the information in the first place.

Creating a structured approach

Kevin HollandIf you ask a group of practitioners what areas of ITSM they want help with, CM invariably comes high in the list. People want to do it but the question always seems to be “how do I start?” All ITSM practitioners recognize the need for CM; best practices such as ITIL® discuss the need for it, but only a small percentage of organizations would admit to having fully implemented it.  The problem is that some perceive it as “too hard” to implement and keep going.

This idea that CM is hard is a myth. The reality is that too many practitioners, without clear guidance to the contrary, try to capture and understand vast quantities of information from large and complex IT estates all at once, whether they need it or not. It’s no wonder that this approach fails.

We’re good at creating long lists of assets, often captured using discovery tools, but that is not CM. True CM is about adding structure and context to data for use in analysis and in making informed decisions. That requires understanding and recording information including what every item is used for, what it is dependent on, what is part of it, and, in turn, what it is part of. That can then be used to support analysis and the making of informed decisions.

The challenge is to decide what data you need to collect and where you should start. It’s highly unlikely that you will need to hold the same level of detail against each type of asset, and even if you do, collating the necessary structural information will be a major challenge.

Hence you need to adopt a structured approach to implementing configuration management systems. Ask “why do I need this particular item of data? What am I going to use it for?” and you’ll soon find you have no need to record everything. Prioritize where you start by focusing on the information that is needed to add value now. To illustrate this approach, I’m going to tell you about the first CMS that I implemented.

Implementing configuration management painlessly

I was working in an organization where the service desk had just been changed from being outsourced to in-house. ;Very soon into the new way of working the team on the service desk told me that whenever a user called them with an issue for a particular service, they didn’t know who supported it, and even if they did, they didn’t have the contact details for the suppliers.  I had just come back from my ITIL Foundation training, so the answer was clear; we needed a database with a list of all the supported services, linked to a list with the information on the suppliers that supported the services.  That was all that was required. This took very little time to create, provided a solution immediately and added instant value to the organization by directly improving incident resolution time and hence the service we then provided to our users.  After that, we added to it as each new requirement arose. Every piece of data and information we held had a known use and added value.

Hence the important points to remember as you start creating a CMS are:

  • Consider the issues that could be improved with available data and information
  • Prioritize based on value
  • Justify why you need every piece of data and information that you capture and record
  • Remember that once captured it needs to be kept up to date
  • Guard against creating something that will take a lot of maintenance
  • Keep it focused, simple and useful.

The key to configuration management is a simple one: start small, but make a start.

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