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What’s the Point of Configuration Management?

By | May 20, 2014 in ITIL

Configuration Management – How to do it right!

I have been working with a customer who wants to improve their service transition processes, and I came across a situation which I’ve seen too often in the past.

The configuration manager was working very hard to maintain information in the service management tool. There were regular updates whenever changes happened, lots of auditing and verifying the accuracy of records, and regular reports showing how well configuration management was working, but nobody I spoke to was making any use of the configuration information. I spoke to a wide range of people in the IT organization, asking them what configuration information they used, and how they accessed it, and they all told me that they didn’t use any of the official configuration information because they didn’t trust it to be accurate, they couldn’t use the tool, and anyway it never had the information they actually needed.

This company had implemented what I sometimes call a "write only database”. They were investing time and money in creating and maintaining configuration information but getting absolutely no value whatsoever from their investment.

It is situations like this that result in the bad reputation that ITIL and ITSM sometimes have in IT organizations. People see lots of bureaucratic work but no value coming from it, and they naturally rebel against this. If nothing is done about it then this can result in people starting to lose respect for other service management processes, because they perceive them all to be very similar.

It would be easy to mock this situation, but I have seen many similar things in other IT organizations. It’s too easy to get into a position where we focus on the process and the tool, instead of thinking about customers and service outcomes. This is particularly true if a lot of time and money have been invested in the tool and the supporting processes.

So how can this situation be remedied? One suggestion was that they improve the process to increase the amount of configuration information that was stored, and make sure it was more accurate. I pointed out that this would make no difference at all. People had given up on using the configuration information, they wouldn’t trust it any more after these increased efforts, and they still wouldn’t be able to use the tool effectively.

The improvement plan that I suggested was to:

  • Identify the stakeholders that could be getting value from configuration information
  • Talk to those stakeholders about how they work, and what configuration information would help them to work more effectively and efficiently
  • Document use cases showing how configuration information could be used to create real value for the IT organization and for their customers
  • Use these use cases as a basis for a complete rewrite of the configuration management policy, ensuring that configuration management focusses on how it should be creating value
  • Redesign the process, based on the new policy and the documented use cases
  • Ensure that the tool supports the required use cases, and document how it should be used to implement these
  • Design a communication and training program, based on the use cases, to help people understand how they could use configuration management to help them work better
  • Implement monitoring and reporting, again based on the documented use cases, to find out what value the new process is creating

How confident are you that your configuration information is creating value for your organization? Why not go and talk to the people you think should be using it and get them to show you how they work; you might be shocked by what you find. If you do discover a situation similar to this one then you really do need to stop what you have been doing and start again. Think about outcomes and value creation rather than about populating a CMDB, and you will get much more value from your investment in configuration management.

When did you last review your configuration management process to ensure it is creating real value for you and your customers?

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Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

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