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3 Approaches to Building Your CMS

By Martin Likier

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A fully operationally and mature configuration management system (CMS) can be a tremendous help to your organization’s support and service delivery departments. Among its many benefits, your organization will be able to manage and assess risk; isolate the source and root cause of problems quicker; and gain a deeper understanding of the impact of service outages.

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However, there are many challenges in bringing a CMS to life. One of the first challenges lies with an understanding of where you should start. It is important to understand the pros and cons of each possible approach to building a CMS. By selecting the best approach, you can streamline your organization’s adoption and help ensure the best return on investment.

Where to begin

There are three ways you can start a CMS project:

The strategic value approach - Organizations may choose to start with this way when they believe their business requirements and priorities are well understood, documented and have not changed over a long period of time.

One way to use this approach is to document business and technical services that are delivered in a service catalog. With defined services, relationships and compositions can be determined and documented in the CMS. Once completed, this service information can be used to align with the business and set the foundation for the structure of the CMS.

Some of the pros and cons of this approach include:

Pros:

Cons:

The functionally focused approach - Companies may choose to use this approach when they have already procured tools and technology that aid in application discovery and mapping of service and infrastructure relationships.

These tools are used to collect and provide an inventory of applications and their relationships to use in the definition of services. Once the initial inventory is complete, applications can be mapped to services, including the composition of each service.

This approach establishes the foundation for documenting and defining the services since the relationships are the key component collected during discovery. Similar to the strategic value approach, a technical service catalog can be created using the application relationship information.

Some of the pros and cons of this approach include:

Pros:

Cons:

The tactical-technology-focused approach - Organizations will usually start with this approach when they have access to and can utilize existing monitoring and management tools to collect physical and logical infrastructure configurations like existing servers, routers and switches installed throughout the environment.

This information is used as the starting point for building the CMS and facilitates the establishment of baseline configuration items (CIs) that can be used to cascade relationships for application and service definitions.

Most organizations have various tools used to manage infrastructure information and these databases are considered separate configuration management databases (CMDBs) that can be used as foundational information to integrate with the CMS.

Some of the pros and cons of this approach include:

Pros:

Cons:

Figure 1: The Pyramid: The Three Approaches to Building a CMS

Figure 1: The Pyramid: The Three Approaches to Building a CMS

Having trouble deciding?

If you are unsure of the best approach, it is recommended to start from the bottom and move your way up based on your organizational strategy, needs as well as experience and maturity. You need to make sure your CMS design enables you to scale to accommodate future CMS needs.

Additionally, ensure you define, design and implement your organization's integration of the change and service asset and configuration management processes to support the CMS and the underlying data stored within the CMDBs. Time spent on defining the foundational processes and procedures will pay huge dividends in your ability to select an appropriate toolset for the CMS.

Without defining the foundational process activities in the beginning, you will limit your ability to choose tools wisely.

Utilizing this approach can drastically narrow the scope of the project and allow for appropriate design and testing based on existing and commonly available information. In some cases, a parallel effort can be initiated to define and document a baseline service catalog, as long as your organization has the resources available to accomplish it without disrupting the CMS project.

Three additional things to consider

Support and supported processes - To ensure CMS integrity and accuracy, a mature and effective change management capability must be integrated with a service asset and configuration management process to guarantee the CMS data is controlled and verified whenever changes are made.

To maximize CMS value, don't lose sight of integration with other processes that will be the consumers of the CMS data. For example, incident, problem and service continuity management processes will gain immediate value from the CMS. However, they have integration issues regarding discovery of inaccurate or incomplete data and the ability to quickly respond addressing it.

Release and deployment management will also benefit greatly from understanding risk and impact of proposed changes. In turn, it must be integrated to provide updates to the CMS after updates to services and infrastructure occur.

Toolset integration - Some of the most common challenges companies face when implementing a CMS can be attributed to the difficulty of not being able to effectively integrate discovery and mapping tools with the CMS to help ensure automated maintenance.

Additionally, organizations find it hard to effectively leveraging the CMS with other consumer applications like the service desk suite so incident and change records can be related to configuration information. These challenges are further compounded when diverse and disparate technologies and multi-vendor applications are selected and used.

For that reason determining the best tools solution based on your organization's needs and requirements is an essential step before selection or implementation of the CMS. Failure to do so can seriously degrade any ability to effectively integrate with or enable the processes.

One word: data - Another common set of challenges reside with decisions made around data planning and organization. This includes data modeling and collection, as well as the method used for data population. Organizations can find themselves solely focused on identifying just the data they can capture, as opposed to identifying the data required to support the CMS' primary purpose.

Other organizations experience difficulty in balancing the total number of CIs they collect with the depth and breadth of its classification and categorization. Collecting information on too many configuration items can lead to a data overload scenario that wastes time, money and resources. To make sure data integrity is preserved, all changes to configuration items should be frozen when data is being populated into the configuration management database.

Plan ahead and keep it simple

A CMS is only a supporting system that provides an integrated set of views to data and information deemed vital to your organization. When properly orchestrated, its data can help lead your organization into making informed and wise decisions.

To position your organization so that it has the best chance to succeed when it comes to building a CMS, it is important to start simple and plan ahead. It is also critical that the CMS toolset be implemented with the proper supporting processes to help maintain accurate and timely data that staff can rely on. This will help ensure your CMS project produces the desired outcomes and lives up to your expectations.

Michael Tainter is director of Forsythe’s IT Service Management practice. He can be reached at mtainter@forsythe.com. Marty Likier is a master consultant in Forsythe's IT Service Management practice. He can be reached at mlikier@forysthe.com.