We have been involved in more than 300 CMDB configuration processes, and based on that experience, we compiled these Guidelines to successful ITIL 4 based CMDB.
What is Configuration Management and CMDB?
Configuration Management is about having a record of your systems, what’s happened to those items, and the details of the relationships between the items on your list. It is commonly used in IT, military, or commercial aviation scenarios. In IT, a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) could include details of servers, code modules, applications, etc. and how they are connected.
Who should be involved in the CMDB project?
The introduction of CMDB tools to an organization or a new CMDB application project should be understood and treated as a strategic decision that builds the basis for digitizing business processes – not just a technical project. For a CMDB project to get the right priority, the employees in IT and the departments affected must be convinced of the tangible benefits. Thus, all relevant user groups like data source owners – but above all, the data consumers – should be involved in the project. A stepwise approach will enable a professionally managed project and small successes that will feed the hunger for more as the work progresses.
The digitization of business processes is a challenge that many organizations do not naturally master. The reasons behind might be underestimating the time and expertise needed or wrong approaches from the beginning. These may result in aborting the projects entirely, or only half- or over-filled data stockpile or database that are obsolete from the start.
Which data belongs in a CMDB?
Even though more data is often related to a process than what meets the eye, it would be a mistake to integrate all possible data into the Configuration Management Database, because such an approach inevitably leads to data chaos. In practice, the following rule for data included in the CMDB is more effective: A CMDB contains all relevant information that organizations can later use when doing internal or external reporting. A simple example is whether the IT department should track the use of computer peripherals like mice and keyboards, who benefits from this information, and what use the organization has of knowing whether an employee works with a mouse or not. In real life, monetary limits often determine the relevance, but organizations often also set the guidelines quite arbitrarily, which can lead to unexpected problems going forward.
One of the first decisions in every CMDB project should be on which data to store in the CMDB and which not. This decision, however, should not be carved in stone, as that data set should be extendable at any time. In any case, the data stored in a CMDB should always contribute to the organization’s general gain of knowledge.
How to make sure the CMDB helps gain real insight?
When introducing a CMDB, it is essential to obtain an overview of the data and the various data sources already available in advance. This initial overview, however, rarely provides a complete picture. Often new data sources appear spontaneously during the CMDB projects. Attention should be paid, however, on which grounds data sources are integrated into a CMDB. With the careless addition of unnecessary data and data sources, the project creates a data stockpile that does not provide the organization with a real gain of knowledge.
When introducing a new, central data hub such as a CMDB, the organization must ensure that the functionality of the systems that the organization will replace will continue to be guaranteed. If this is not the case, the project flow must take into account the restoration of the missing functionalities, and the project schedule needs to allow sufficient time for end-to-end testing. For example, if several replaced systems have interfaces to a central system, these interfaces could be replaced by a single interface to the CMDB.
How to select the right CMDB tool?
Apart from defining what data should be stored and tracked in a CMDB, one of the most critical steps in a CMDB project is to decide where to store all the data. There’s plenty of possibilities, starting from self-made database-based tools to specialized multi-purpose CMDB solutions. One of the most common approaches is to use a CMDB integrated into an ITSM tool. Using such an integrated tool is an obvious choice, as ITSM processes like Incident, Problem, and Change Management benefit directly from well-maintained and proper CMDB data. It simply makes it easier to resolve an Incident related to a workstation if you know where to find that workstation.
A CMDB tool to look for does not only come with the most common data types and structures but also gives you the ability to add relations between the datatypes as needed. Furthermore, a tool should be extendable to add very specific datatypes, which do not apply to many customers.
A further benefit to look for is the ability to integrate to 3rd party tools seamlessly. The CMDB should not only offer an API for integrations but should also come with an integration suite that offers ready-made connectors to most common tools, e.g., ERP or discovery tools.
Giant leap or small steps to CMDB success?
Introducing a CMDB at once is an almost impossible undertaking. Employees have become accustomed to the existing processes, and the IT infrastructure that has grown over the years is simply too complicated. Therefore, the introduction of a CMDB should be gradual. Through this approach, successes are quickly visible, and the organization will start appreciating the knowledge and benefits gained.
As the first step, it makes sense to consider the IT department as the primary driver of a CMDB project. At the same time, the project team should include representation from the sources of the most crucial master data, which usually means purchasing or HR departments. These organizations should directly benefit from the introduction of a CMDB.
In the next phase, the project can create interfaces to inventory tools, so that timely data from discoveries is always available. In a third step, this data can be enriched with personnel and location data. Later on, data from business services, data centers, network infrastructure, and service level agreements can be integrated into the CMDB. Project managers should take into account existing links between individual data types.
If you want to know more about how you could benefit from a modern CMDB solution for service fluency, please read an example here: Healthcare sector IT Service Provider offers better customer service and transparency.