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Building the business case for configuration management

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Carlos Casanova

Carlos Casanova

This article has been contributed by Carlos Casanova from K2 Solutions Group

At last year’s itSMF USA conference in Nashville I had the pleasure of meeting Dagfinn Krog from itSMF Norway. We had a great conversation regarding configuration management and The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, and during the conversation, there were some references to attending the conference in Norway, but nothing I took all that seriously. Much to my surprise, a few weeks later I received a formal invitation to not only attend the conference in Norway but to participate in three different sessions.

Having never traveled to the region before, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in what many describe as “one of the best service management conferences in the industry”. Shortly after accepting to participate, I received an invitation from Tobias Nyberg from the itSMF Sweden to meet the itSMF Sweden team in Stockholm after the conference in Norway. To say I was thrilled to be invited to the region and meet with their member and discuss configuration management would be an understatement.

This conference was, in some ways, very different to the many ones that I have attended in the US. The primary differentiator being that this one was much more personal. It could have been the size, which was at record number this year, but personally I think it was more than that. There seemed to be a more “family” feel to it which, for a foreign traveler was very welcoming. From first arrival in Norway to final departure from Stockholm, I could not have asked for a more personal and warm reception from everyone. It’s as if we had known each other for years.  A huge thank you to all involved for making a long trip away from home that much easier.  Ok… now on to why you actually read “ITSM Review”

Configuration management workshop

As I mentioned, I participated in three sessions, of which this was the first. This pre conference workshop focused on developing the business case for your configuration management efforts. We had a great group of individuals participating that were slammed with far more materials than they could ever have possibly absorbed in such a short time, but they all did a great job working through the five activities we had scheduled to start formulating the basis of the business case.

  1. Why is configuration management Important to my organization?
  2. What does “value” look like to my organization?
  3. How will each process area reap “value” from the configuration management initiative?
  4. What should I expect to encounter within my organization that will hinder value from being achieved?
  5. What will I do in the first 30 days once I get back to start generating value?

In a three hour session with a total of approximately one hour to work on the activities, it wasn’t expected that they would form cohesive thoughts and statements but, at a minimum, they would start formulating the foundations of their argument. In much the same manner, we can’t cover all the material from the workshop in this article but, below are some highlights for you to think about.

  • Without configuration management, your level of operational maturity will always be limited due to lack of insight into how devices and services mesh together to deliver business outcomes.
  • If you can’t define/demonstrate what “value” looks like in your organization and to the various domains that must participate, everyone will define it themselves. Leaving it up to each area to define without guidance will most assuredly result in a variety of expectations which you will likely never be able to meet.
  • Identify your biggest challenges immediately and address them or set a path around them. If it’s people, find out what their biggest desire is and see if you can satisfy it. If you can, they will be your biggest advocate and asset to success. If you can’t avoid, if possible, impacting their area for as long as possible until you have established some traction and a broader support base to take them on.
  • Get started. You can’t keep putting it off. The challenge of not knowing has always existed and has only gotten worse.  Waiting for a better time to do Configuration Management is silly. Do something, anything…. and do it now.

What Configuration Management, CMDB and CMS is and isn’t

This session was predominantly based upon materials from my book (The CMDB Imperative)  and framed the core concepts around executing a configuration management initiative. Unfortunately, whether it is clients in the US or individuals in Scandinavia, there are some common areas that everyone seems to struggle with implementing and/or understanding.

  1. CMDB versus CMS – They aren’t the same thing.  Understand the difference and which approach is most likely to work for you. Very briefly, they can be thought of as…
    • CMDB – A conceptual structure that provides perspective to the relationship between two objects controlled in a single data store.
    • CMS –  A conceptual structure that provides perspective to the relationship between two objects across more than one controlled data stores
  2. Relationships – Without them, you really don’t have configuration management, you have watered down asset or inventory management. You’re basically a manifest manager. Sorry!
  3. Transforming Data into Information – There is no shortage of data in every organization. We’re drowning in it.  Problem is, there is no context to it. Configuration Management adds context.
  4. Complexity – Yes, it can be complex if you let it be. Cut through it and look at it through a small network/neural network perspective. Focus on singular connections between items. Then repeat for the next and the next. Eventually you’ll identify them all.
  5. Perspective and Layers – You need to, if you haven’t already, adopt the perspective of the consumer rather than producer.  It is all about producer-consumer relationships and the view from the other side is not always attractive and you need to know that.
  6. Transitioning and Awareness – Your organization didn’t get to where it is overnight and it won’t sort itself out overnight. Set realistic expectations. Expect potholes and speed bumps. Plan for them and factor them in. Be aware of your surroundings at all times because they will sneak up on you.

Establishing a common vision of what “it is” and what “it is not” is instrumental to the likelihood of success. Set a sound strategy and vision and then start small and work at a tactical level to deliver value at regular intervals. You need the small “wins” early to stand a chance at bigger accomplishments later.

Anything about Configuration Management

The last configuration management related session I conducted for itSMF Sweden members, where we held an unstructured question and answer session whereby the individuals simply asked anything related to configuration management. We then had an open conversation about the question and/or statement.  From questions about specific challenges to advice for how to go about doing something, this session solidified my early sense that their challenges, questions and concerns were not very far from their peers in the US or UK.

They were challenged by essentially the same things:

  • Lack of and/or constantly changing “leadership”
  • Poor, nonexistent constantly changing directives
  • Cultural resistance to changing how it’s currently done (a topic discussed extensively in the round table session I also participated in about the Future of ITSM at the Norway conference)
  • Misunderstanding/confusion of the difference between ITAM and SACM

The first three of these challenges are interrelated and based on poor or frequently changing leadership.  Think of leadership as a compass.  It sets direction and vision for where you need to go. If the compass is broken or the owner of the compass continually picks a different location to sail towards, you will never reach your a destination. When this occurs, the masses lose general confidence in leadership and will no longer feel that they should exert energy towards moving in any direction set by them.

An individual I met a long time ago, who was at the time working for a global enterprise well known for their musical chair approach to “leadership” had been subjected to this type of environment for years. He told me without shame or hesitation, (paraphrased) “I just need to get my work done today.  I have outlasted the last three CEOs & CIOs. I will outlast the next three if I just ignore the latest leadership whim and just do the work as I know it needs to get done. I’d like to believe that the next guy will be different, but I have lost faith in that potential so I just focus on doing my job today.”  The bottom line; without strong, reliable and consistent leadership, even the best ideas are likely to fail and breed a bad working culture.

The last item listed has been a more recent awareness as I have worked with more mid-sized clients typically less mature in their operational processes. As these companies try to improve their operational maturity and IT cost accounting, they recognize the need to first capture and maintain lists of devices in their environment and what they cost; i.e. asset and inventory management. However, with all the talk of how configuration management enables you to see all the devices, they tend to make the connection, incorrectly as it may be, that configuration management is the mechanism by which this is done. So, these companies venture down the road labeled “configuration management” unknowingly in search of “asset and inventory management”.

In summary

All in all, the events in both Norway and Sweden were excellent and I strongly recommend that if you have the opportunity to attend next year, you do. The organization of them is top notch, the venues are as you would expect and most importantly, you will be welcomed as though you have been part of their family since birth. Go and enjoy, you won’t regret it professional or personally.

This article has been contributed by Carlos Casanova from K2 Solutions Group




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