5 Steps to Employing Effective Configuration Management Database

June 24, 2015
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Configuration management databases (CMDB) are invaluable in giving organizations better transparency and control over their IT operations. This is possible because a well-maintained CMDB identifies all of the configuration items within the IT setup, defines how they relate to one another and provides a roadmap for how different processes revolve around those systems. Want to make a complex change? Simulate it in the CMDB to anticipate its implications. Need to replace an aging system? Go into the CMDB and find out exactly what services and processes depend on the hardware.

The details provided within a CMDB can be critical as IT organizations become more complex. However, taking advantage of this potential value is only possible when the CMDB is configured properly to meet your specific needs. Read the steps below to see our recommendations for correctly implementing a CMDB.

Step 1: Build out Your Internal Structure

There are a few varying opinions on how to get started when building the foundation of a CMDB. It is recommended that organizations should start tracking incidents, service requests, change tasks and other operations alongside the generic configuration items they pertain to as a first step to configuration management. Forsythe, on the other hand, recommends creating governance and administrative roles as the first part of the process. While these tasks are vastly different, they represent the same core principle – creating structure.

A good CMDB is built on an organizational and technical foundation that will empower you to continually improve. Clearly defining your different configuration item types, assessing how service requests interact with CIs, delineating how different personnel will interact with the CMDB and creating overarching governance policies all impact your eventual ability to manage your IT systems. If you want to eventually build out to documenting how items relate to one another, you need to begin by creating your internal rules and designations so that you can put the information you have in the right context to guide future efforts. Be sure to assess your organization’s current structure when determining how you should begin building out your CMDB.

Step 2: Define Work Roles Within the Configuration

A CMDB can be used to support a variety of work roles and processes ranging from change and problem management to the tracking of hardware licenses. It is important to understand how specifically you will be using the CMDB during the early stages of your implementation project. Understanding how information about your configuration items will be used is necessary when you begin to figure out the types of CI-related data you will want to report on.

Knowing the ins and outs of the CI reporting you will be doing will eventually help you see how they relate to one another and allow you to better assess the health of your configuration as a whole. For example, reporting data on one router may prove integral in ensuring users have access to an application during a move, add or change task. Alternately, seeing that a large number of users are running into performance problems with applications hosted on a single server and filing incident support requests about that system may tell you that the hardware is becoming outdated. If you know how you plan on using your CMDB, you will be able to choose which data to create reports for and identify how to organize those reports in a more precise way.

Step 3: Take a Full Inventory of Your Existing Assets

This step isn’t really about identifying all of your configuration items as that process will start to happen organically as you move through the stages of building a CMDB. This step is more about identifying the various tools you have at your disposal to properly manage the CMDB. For example, many organizations often have large repositories of CI-related data sitting around. This data can be made more valuable when integrated into the CMDB; giving IT better contextual insights into their configuration. There also may be existing business tools already be in place to gather CI-related data on an ongoing basis, and these capabilities should be brought into the CMDB to maximize efficiency.

Step 4: Create Your Full List of Configuration Items

At this point, you have the core structure for your CMDB built out and you understand how the various work processes impact your configuration items. You also have an idea of how CIs relate to one another along with the internal data and tools to help you populate the database. Through this evolution, you will have worked with generic CIs and documented specific CIs in certain areas. With all of the knowledge in place, you need to delve into your configuration to identify each CI, document its relationship and create relevant reporting parameters.

Step 5: Develop a Process Framework and Automate

With your base of CIs in place and a clear understanding of how your configuration functions, it is time to start creating the processes needed to continually improve your CMDB. This core foundation of CIs will be added to as your configuration changes over time. New IT service management challenges will emerge as business requirements shift. You can’t ignore these issues and let the CMDB undermine its potential. Forsythe recommends that continuous improvement be a priority among organizations deploying a CMDB and recommended following the Deming Cycle of planning, doing and acting to organize ongoing projects.

You also need to continually audit your CMDB to avoid data replication and inaccuracy. All of the data going into the CMDB can be difficult to manage. You need to not only perform frequent audits, but also consider process automation as a way to make these audits easier to deal with.

Process automation needs to be a priority in this late stage of CMDB deployment. At this point, your CMDB is large and complex. Having users manually add configuration items, reports and other information is not always feasible. Using various data integration tools can help you automate this process and streamline operations. The right process framework will help you script ongoing management tasks and create a solid foundation for continual growth.

Creating Value Through Configuration Management

A CMDB has a close relationship with change management. The relational data available in the system helps you to improve precision and efficiency during change tasks, but that isn’t the only way you can leverage the technology. Effective CI relationship management gives you clear insight into your various CI assets so you can plan and manage everyday service delivery tasks with ease. At the same time, the transparency created by CMDBs improves your ability to respond to emergencies, handle licensing and warranty challenges, identify performance problems with the configuration and streamline every facet of the IT organization.

These five steps should not be looked at as a static process. With continual improvement as the goal, you will continually need to take a step back and look at your overarching structure, work roles framework and management tools to make sure they fit both business and IT demands. The data you want to gather about CIs can change as these requirements shift. Managing a CMDB is an ongoing process, but it creates value in diverse ways.

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