The 5 Ways a CMS Provides Value

By Mike Tainter

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There is no question in the IT industry today an effective and actionable configuration management system (CMS) can provide a lot of value. However, a CMS cannot stand alone. It should be supported by a well defined process and provide integration with other processes within the service lifecycle.


Without setting appropriate expectations, your CMS could become a “junk drawer” -- an unorganized system with incomplete information and no management of the items placed within it. In this article, we will first define the components of configuration management and then describe five expected outcomes or benefits.

Building an effective and actionable CMS requires one to understand the fundamentals of configuration management. The v3 release of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) further clarifies the concepts of configuration management. It separates the process into the three major components (Figure 1).

As you can see, there are three major components of configuration management:

Configuration management databases (CMDB) -This component is the data layer of the system. In previous versions of ITIL, the CMDB was the only component. This created confusion in that it appeared to be one unit. The reality is that many IT organizations have distributed systems that house configuration data such as network, server and storage data; however, these systems were not integrated and did not create a single view or access point.

Additionally, the management of the data was not shared across the organization. These distributed CMDBs are the building blocks and source information that feed the next layer, the configuration management system. Configuration management system (CMS) - This component is where data is turned into information. To understand this component of CMS, think of it like a concierge at a hotel. One of the best ways to get information at the hotel is to go the concierge, which is a focal point for all the services the hotel offers.

CMS acts like the hotel concierge. It is the component that holds information relating to all the CMDBs. In order for it to be effective, it must have information on where all the CMDBs are located. It is not necessarily a repository where all the CMDBs are replicated; it is more a mechanism to identify where the data sources are held.

Going back to the hotel example, the concierge does not manage the data available in the CMDBs, he or she only accesses and uses it to provide services to the customer. Service knowledge management system (SKMS) - This component turns information into knowledge. The purpose of this component is to synthesize the information contained in the CMS and CMDBs and use it to make the right decisions related to services.

To gain better understanding of this component, think about what physicist and priest William Pollard once said: “Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden not a benefit.”

The SKMS interacts with the CMS to use and correlate service information. In order to effectively gain value from the SKMS, defining services and their components are the activities that will help organize information in the CMS.

Now that we know the three components of configuration management, there are five ways data, information and knowledge should provide value:

Managing outages - The information within the CMS can be used to determine impact, urgency, priority, scope, service level information, effected customers/users, recent changes or workarounds/fixes. Having this information available when managing an outage can help to decrease restoration time, and therefore, have less impact to customers.

Conversely, imagine what happens when the appropriate information is not available. Restoration teams spend more time gathering the necessary information and must leverage tribal knowledge, while users are impacted by the outage. After service is restored, the CMS should also be used to capture all information related to the resolution for future use.

Risk/impact information for changes - One of the biggest concerns for any organization is evaluating the risk and impact of changes. Too often, risk/impact decisions are based more on tribal knowledge rather than documented information. Additionally, when decisions are based on a single CMDB, relationships are not considered.

A CMS provides relationship information that can be used to assess the full risk and impact of a change so appropriately planning can be undertaken. The result is a more holistic view of a change, thereby reducing the risk of harmful damage when the change is implemented. Workarounds and fixes - The quickest way to resolve an issue is to have workarounds and fixes documented so support personnel can access them and apply them to resolve issues and requests.

As root causes of issues are identified and solutions developed, the information can be housed in the CMS in order to increase visibility and use by the support teams.

Documenting permanent fixes also has the benefit of reducing the recurrence of outages and provides for trending information on how well support teams are permanently resolving issues. Setting service expectations - Having service level agreements (SLAs) accessible in the CMS allows support personnel to understand the service targets. Customers can be provided with expected service levels when reporting issues or requesting service. As SLAs are used and documented in the CMS, the IT organization can also determine whether the targets are achievable by evaluating trends in their ability to meet the targets.

This capability allows for a targeted program to identify improvement opportunities, as well. The end result is that information is available to make the necessary decisions to improve service. Rollout planning - As new systems or features are planned for release, the CMS can be used to determine the scope of the rollout by identifying the users of the systems. To this end, IT planners can effectively determine rollout, training and communication schedules and document them in the CMS.

Flagging CMS entries that have been identified for new releases allows for a better understanding of the scope. It allows the IT organization the ability to provide effective and efficient support before, during and after the release. The result is less impact to the user community.

To achieve these five benefits, it is very important for you to understand the three components of configuration management and plan its implementation effectively. It is also critical to take the time to determine the desired outcomes prior to undertaking this initiative. This will help your CMS from becoming a “junk drawer.”

The long-term benefits will be well worth time if you spend to understand and plan for the expected value of a fully functional configuration management system.

As director of Forsythe's IT service management practice, Mike Tainter focuses on IT service management, ITIL, operations management, process design, IT operations support system development, and IT logistical requirements for a wide variety of organizations.