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What are the differences between Configuration Management and IT Asset Management

This article was originally published here on July 24, 2019.

IT asset management (ITAM) and configuration management are both useful practices that can benefit any organization using IT. Both of these practices are concerned with the management of IT assets, but focus on different things.

Configuration management can exist without IT asset management, and in fact does in many organizations as it has been in existence and in use for a much longer time. Conversely, IT asset management can’t really exist without some form of configuration management, as this provides a strong base of trusted and accurate data about the IT assets.

Before exploring the differences between IT asset management and configuration management, it is first important to understand their definitions.

What is IT Asset Management?

ITAM is defined as a set of business practices that join financial, contractual (such as software licenses) and inventory functions (such as configuration management) to support lifecycle management and strategic decision-making for the IT environment. This definition makes it clear that IT asset management, unlike configuration management, is not just about keeping the books. IT asset management leverages related processes, including configuration management, to maximize the benefits to the organization.

In order to understand what IT asset management is, it is first important to define an asset. ITIL v3 defines an asset as anything that could ‘contribute to the delivery of a service’. ITIL 4 defines an asset as ‘any financially viable component that can contribute to the delivery of an IT product or service’. It defines IT asset management as ‘the practice of planning and managing the full lifecycle of all IT assets.

IT asset management is therefore concerned with managing everything used in IT to provide the services, through the entire lifecycle of IT assets from inception to retirement.

What is Configuration Management?

Configuration management, sometimes known as service asset and configuration management or SACM, is the practice responsible for ensuring that an organization’s IT assets that are required to deliver services are properly controlled, and that accurate and reliable information about those assets is available when and where it is needed. Contrast this with IT asset management, which is more concerned with using information to make strategic decisions.

The goal of configuration management is to ensure that accurate and reliable information about the configuration of services, and the configuration items that support them, is available when and where needed. ITAM is just one potential customer of configuration management.

The information required for configuration management includes details of how the assets have been configured, and the relationships between different assets. Each asset in configuration management is known as a configuration item, and are components that need to be managed in order to deliver an IT service.

Configuration management stores data and information about the IT assets in a database known as a configuration management database, or CMDB. Every asset has a configuration record in the CMDB, containing all the details about a specific configuration item that are required for effective configuration management. Precisely what is recorded for configuration will depend on the specific services, systems, and IT assets used by each different IT organization. For effective configuration management, each configuration record should also document the lifecycle of a single IT asset as changes are made to it through its lifetime.

As well as storing information required for the management of each individual IT asset, a CMDB for configuration management will also record the relationships between configuration records and assets. These relationships provide support to other practices within IT service management (ITSM), such as incident management, change management and problem management.

A configuration management system or CMS is a set of tools, data, and information that is used to support configuration management. Hence configuration management, and IT asset management, can obtain data and information from multiple sources.

What is the difference between an asset register, a CMDB, and IT Asset Management?

An asset register is a database or list of assets, capturing key attributes required for financial management such as ownership or financial value. Asset registers have been in use for much longer than configuration management or IT asset management have been in existence. Most countries have legislation that require organizations to keep an accurate record of the financial value of all of the assets that they possess. The total value of the assets, both fixed and intangible, has to be included in annual reports.

Unlike a CMDB, an asset register does not usually contain information about the relationships between assets. The assets may have different classifications, to help with financial asset management where different types of assets can have different rates of depreciation, but this is not the same as the relationships held in a CMDB.

Managing an asset register is sometimes confusingly also known as asset management, or fixed asset management, but it is not the same as what we now call IT asset management. Historic management of assets was limited to recording the purchase value of the asset, recording any disposals, and depreciating the value of the asset being managed over time. Whilst the information may have been used to identify high cost assets, the historic asset management was more concerned with bookkeeping , whereas IT asset management is about using the data and information to make strategic decisions.

Maintaining an accurate asset register is crucial to successful IT asset management, as strategic decisions should be based on accurate costs. An asset register should also be consistent with a CMDB, although the data required for configuration management will frequently be at a much lower level than the data required for asset management. For example, configuration management for a storage system might include low level data on each disk, controller, and cable, whereas asset management may only have a single item for the storage system.

What types of assets can be managed with IT Asset Management and Configuration Management?

The scope of both IT asset management and configuration management includes many different types of asset. As long as the asset or configuration item is used to provide an IT service, then it can be in the scope of IT asset management and configuration management. However, many organizations restrict the scope of their configuration management practice, and the items in the CMDB, to physical, tangible assets and configuration items such as IT equipment and components.

In contrast with configuration management, ITAM is also concerned with intangible assets such as organization structures, the skills of individuals, and processes. Whilst these theoretically can also be in the scope of configuration management, they are usually managed by other practices such as human resource management and quality management.

It is important to ensure that the scope of the activities for both IT asset management and configuration management balance the risks and rewards against the costs of management. This can be done by varying the levels of management of assets and configurations for different types and categories of asset. Many organizations prioritise managing the following types of IT assets and configuration items:

  • Hardware: These are physical IT components including desktop computers, servers, network equipment, and storage
  • Software: including applications, operating systems, and databases
  • Portable Devices: Mobile devices, such as laptops, PDAs, smartphones, and tablets

These types of IT assets are priorities for both IT asset management and configuration management as they tend to be critical to the operation of any organization’s IT services.

However, just restricting your IT asset management and configuration activities to these types can still result in more individual components than you have the capacity to manage. To address this issue, both your ITAM approach and your configuration management approach should include consideration of what level is important to manage, using a risk-based approach. This is particularly the case for hardware IT assets, such as low-level and low-value components including cables and internal network cards.

Configuration management will tend to operate at a lower level than IT asset management, with configuration management providing ITAM with summarised information on key assets.

Summary

Effective configuration management is a prerequisite for IT asset management. Good configuration management will help you to maximise the availability and reduce the risks of your IT services. IT asset management can save your organization money, by helping to identify and remove unused IT assets, and by supporting compliance with legislation.

Virima offers you a set of tools and solutions to address IT’s most critical management challenges and will help you improve the overall health of your estate while enabling your organization to benefit from configuration management, including your CMDB, and from IT asset management. Learn more here.

Virima’s IT discovery, IT asset management (ITAM), and IT service management (ITSM) solutions can help you maximize the value of business processes and service management investments. Virima features can automatically discover and map your critical IT resources and the interconnections that link them to one another, your applications and services, and your users.

Learn more about Virima’s IT and service management solutions online, or contact Virima today.

If you’d like to publish us in your publication, please reach out to us at info@virima.com

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Virima is a SaaS platform that solves your toughest IT operations management and reporting challenges. Learn about the various IT challenges IT Asset Discovery, App & Service Dependency Mapping, IT Asset Management, Build a CMDB, Change Management etc.

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