What comes first: ITAM or configuration management?


ITAM or configuration management? Man sitting on steps outside his house working on laptop

IT asset management (ITAM) and configuration management are critical for IT modernization initiatives. Although both strategies provide guidance for tracking IT assets, their objectives are quite different. 

ITAM is about managing IT assets from a cost, risk, and value perspective. Configuration management tracks IT assets from an operational and support perspective. 

As organizations mature in their service management offerings, one question needs to be addressed: Should ITAM be implemented before configuration management, or should configuration management come first?

Before answering this question, it’s important to understand the role of each discipline and how they work together to support service management operations.  

Managing IT assets from an operational perspective

Consider the operations of an airline. If you book a flight from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, you’re given a flight number. That flight number represents a service and is documented in the airline’s database that lists all flights offered. 

Flight numbers link to relevant information about each flight, including origination, destination, assigned crew members, gate numbers, gate agents, and the airplane itself. Any attributes related to the airplane, such as maintenance records and airplane configuration, are linked directly to the airplane—not to the flight number representing the service. 

A configuration management solution uses at least one configuration management database (CMDB) to house objects called configuration items (CIs). A CI represents a physical or logical IT element. This means a CI representing a logical element can be used to represent an IT service or a business service, in much the same way as a flight number represents a flight service. 

A CI that represents a physical entity is linked to hardware or software IT assets and contains attributes associated with configuration and status. A CI representing a service is typically linked to the CI(s) that represents the physical or virtual IT assets that perform the service. 

A CMDB stores data associated with configuration items (CIs) and IT assets.


From a mission or business viewpoint, configuration management provides stakeholders with a complete view of the organization’s service offerings and technology assets that support those offerings. From an IT and service management viewpoint, stakeholders are given a complete view of the IT infrastructure that supports service offerings, including representations that show how IT assets and IT services are aligned to the business or mission objectives.

Configuration management is aligned with ITSM problem and change management workflows. It plays an important role in root cause analysis, and it minimizes downtime of services offered by an organization. 

If an IT asset supporting an IT service must be replaced, the CI representing that asset would be replaced, not the CI representing the service, like an equipment change performed by an airline. When an issue is discovered with an airplane, the plane can be replaced without impacting the actual flight number representing the flight service. 

Managing IT assets from cost, risk, and value 

If an airline decides to expand its services by adding flights to more destinations, decision-makers must evaluate asset inventory to see how many airplanes need to be purchased to meet the new requirements for operations. 

Although an airplane has an initial cost when purchased, it incurs additional costs while in operation. An inventory asset management database provides stakeholders with the total cost and associated risk of each airplane it has in operation, giving decision-makers data to inform future airplane purchases. 

Similarly, ITAM tracks IT assets from purchase to disposal—often referred to as IT asset lifecycle management. ITAM practices establish an accurate account of an organization’s IT assets, including the associated cost incurred throughout the IT asset’s lifecycle. 

ITAM uses an IT asset management database to document physical assets and then links them to associated contractual and financial information. ITAM is not just a software solution; it’s a strategy that requires an organization's internal acquisition and procurement processes to be clearly defined, enforced, and automated.

By using workflows that increase control and enforce compliance to an organization’s acquisition policies, ITAM processes can reduce risk and cost. These workflows are typically aligned with ITSM workflows, such as IT asset requests, approvals, procurement, disposals, deployments, and redeployments. Workflows ensure IT assets are documented when they’re purchased and properly tracked when deployed. 

ITAM objectives focus on managing IT assets from a cost, risk, and value perspective. Configuration management tracks IT assets from an operational and support perspective.


ITAM provides stakeholders with asset intelligence by showing how IT assets relate to contracts, departments, cost centers, vendors, warranties, usage, security posture, compliance, availability, and location.

Lost or stolen IT assets with sensitive data can result in a reputational nightmare for your company. When integrated with network discovery tools, ITAM solutions can decrease an organization’s security risk, notifying security administrators about unauthorized or unknown IT assets that join the network. Alerts can also be generated if an IT asset doesn’t report into the network for a period of time.   

Conclusion

Rolling out ITAM before implementing configuration management could simplify configuration management implementation by providing decision-makers with an accurate account of all the technology in their possession. However, without configuration management in place, the performance and reliability of an organization’s business or mission services is at greater risk. Changes introduced into the environment will most likely result in more downtime. 

Therefore, the answer to which solution should be first is: Both configuration management and ITAM should be rolled out simultaneously. 

From a tactical angle, implementing both ITAM and configuration management at the same time enables administrators to use the same discovery tools to capture, upload, and link IT assets to CIs. This allows them to populate both the ITAM database and the CMDB with a single import versus two separate imports.

Added benefit: If IT administrators have an accurate inventory of their technology and costs while reviewing IT demands and prioritizing projects, they’ll have data to inform technology acquisition decisions. 

Configuration and change management workflows that use a CMDB can minimize disruption to the production environment. Both ITAM and configuration management are vital to modernization initiatives, and both should be deployed together. 

Find out how ServiceNow CMDB integration into ITAM processes can provide a common place to store and manage data associated with IT assets and CIs.

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