Just as an architect draws up the blueprint and bill-of-materials for a construction, configuration management provides the items within an IT environment and the relationships between them. It provides sufficient information about a something used to deliver a service, as well as its relationship to other things to help various service operations like diagnosing the cause of a failure or identifying things that might get affected because of something we want to do.
The value of configuration management lies in how the data is used. The consumers of the data define the use cases that configuration management must deliver. The configuration management team must work with consumers of the data and agree on what data must be managed, and how it will be kept current and accurate. Very often, the people tasked with this role fail to start with the consumer in mind or consider the challenges of keeping the data up to date. This leads to situations where there is a lot of data, and it still doesn’t support the use cases of the consumer – commonly referred to the DRIP (data rich, information poor) syndrome. Trying to manage a lot of data from disparate sources takes a lot of resources – both computer and human. It is important to ensure that the value to the consumers outweighs these costs.
There are four common audiences and consumers of configuration management data:
The value of a configuration management practice is centered on the needs of each of these consumers. The configuration management team needs to understand these needs and deliver these incrementally by building the practice capabilities using process, technology, and when necessary, the right set of people.
A common approach to delivering configuration management has been using a ‘build it (CMDB) and they will come strategy’. This strategy often considers the consumers after the fact and the use cases are often not met. The ensuing CMDB adoption remains low, and the value is not realized.
An alternative approach that is gaining traction and has been working well within organizations is the Configuration Management as a Service (CMaaS) model. This lays its anchor in business objectives to drive configuration management focus. Here, the consumers provide the business need that the configuration management team delivers as a service. The service itself can comprise of technical and consultative aspects, supported by the right level of governance.
The approach is based upon looking to the business need as the sponsor of the data for a consumer. The level of detail, governance and housekeeping is also associated to the same business need for configuration management. This ensures that the service provided by configuration management is tied to a value proposition that is aligned to the objectives of the stakeholders.
Moving to a ‘Configuration Management as a Service’ strategy, the practice recognizes and overcomes the disconnection from the consumer communities served, and the building of a configuration management database (CMDB) seems never ending and perceived by some as expensive overhead.
Director, Advisory Services
Ian M. Clayton
Director, ServiceNow Service Management Practices (ITSM + CSM)