What is the difference between an Asset and a Configuration Item?

There is a lot of confusion as to what the difference is between an Asset and a Configuration Item (CI).  When should a new object be an asset and when should it be a CI?  In a lot of ways, they are alike, but there are some very important differences between them.

Why is it important to distinguish between an Asset and a CI?  It really gets down to how the object is going to be used.  If the usage of the object is just for inventory or financial tracking, then it is viewed as an Asset.  If the object is required for delivery of a service that is intrinsic to the wellbeing of the organization, then it is classified as a CI. Another very large differentiator is that a CI is used in the Change Management process.  Every time a change is made to a CI, a change request should be created.  If you were to do this with all assets, the number of change requests would quickly become unmanageable.  Consider if a change request was opened every time someone rebooted their laptop – change requests would soon become meaningless .


Assets can be just about anything that is a physical device. Assets are tracked from a financial perspective.  Assets can be used in incidents or problems if there is something wrong with the asset. There is a whole set of IT Asset Management (ITAM) principles and processes that allow the tracking of an asset from acquisition to deployment to disposal. An asset typically:

  • Holds financial value which depreciates over time
  • Contains Warranty information
  • Includes Customer Support information during the Warranty period
  • Is created from a procurement system, discovery tool or, in rare cases, manually

They can include objects like laptops, desktops, printers, phones, software, etc.  Assets usually don’t record any relationships with other assets – they are standalone objects. Assets are not managed using change requests.

Configuration Items

Configuration Items are the objects that you have chosen to put under the control of Configuration Management.  They will be included in your Configuration Management Database (CMDB).  CI’s are critical to the success of the organization. If the CI is not functioning properly, there will likely be financial consequences to the organization.


You will find that there are many more Assets than CI’s in your environment. CI’s are likely to be a subset of the assets defined like servers or network hardware.  But they don’t have to be assets. For example, a service (like email or accounting) would be a CI, but not an asset since it’s not a physical device.



CI’s typically:

  • Define Relationships like parent -> child or dependencies
  • Can be referenced in an Incident, Problem or Request for Change
  • Include approved version information on Software CI’s
  • Is created from a discovery tool or manually
  • Has events raised against it as required by an automated event management system which may result in an automated Incident being opened

Software CI’s are a special case of CI.  They can have a special process (called Software License Management) associated with them.  This process will keep track of software licenses in use, available for assignment, and available for reclamation. It can also be used for license compliance during an audit of license usage.

As you can see while there are a lot of similarities between Assets and CI’s which leads to the confusion.  The major difference is whether or not the object will be managed under change management.