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9 Steps Towards a Successful CMS, Part II

If a CMS is part of your agenda, these 9 steps should take some of the guess work out of getting started, writes ITSMWatch columnist Marty Likier of Forsythe's IT Service Management Practice.
Jan 6, 2011

Martin Likier


There is no doubt that the information technology infrastructure library (ITIL) has grown to become a widely accepted reference for information technology (IT) best practices. Its version 3 (v3) approach for service lifecycle management was long overdue and offers some tremendous insight around Service Strategy, Design, Transition, Operation and Improvement. However, it would be a great misnomer to think that after reading any of the books in the ITIL library a practitioner would be in a position to take what they just read and make it actionable. Service asset and configuration management (SACM) is one such area.

With this limited guidance, it is surprising to see many organizations jump right into configuration management tool set implementation without establishing a clear vision of their objectives. To help you with this task, consider using this nine-step process for creating an actionable strategy and plan for successfully implementing a configuration management system (CMS). The efforts made in properly planning and designing your CMS will place you in a better position to add value and enhance your organization's management capabilities. In part II of this two-part series, we look at tools, schemes, structure and continuous improvement. To see the first five steps, please read 9 Steps Towards a Successful CMS.


Step 6: Understand what tools are available to support the process

Investigate what current tools are available within your organization for collecting, storing, managing and updating the CMS data. Identify which tools meet the defined requirements, and which requirements have yet to be met by existing tools. Knowing your tool inventory will have a huge affect on the creation of your organization's eventual data model and CMS structure.

Use tools to automate data collection and help mitigate the risk of errors that can be introduced by manual data entry and maintenance. An effort should be made to identify any additional tools that could help in the automation process and determine if a business case can be made to support their purchase. While developing a business case can be difficult, aligning it back to the planning activities conducted in steps three and five will help justify their purchase.


Step 7: Decide on a configuration item (CI) categorization and naming scheme

Start by determining how the CIs will be categorized. Many organizations find using Type; Family; Class; to be an acceptable starting point. An example of this would include be: Type: Hardware; Family: Server; Class: Windows.

Next, decide on a naming convention. A naming convention is essential for organizations where data needs to be integrated into the CMS, but is stored in multiple CMDBs across the enterprise. Utilizing a standard naming convention helps to ensure the integrity of other IT service management processes such as incident management and measurement and reporting.


Step 8: Decide on CMS structure

After categorization and naming conventions are in place, design your CMS structure. Your CMS structure should be aligned with the primary usages established in Step 3 and designed with the goal of satisfying their priorities. Many organizations design their CMS structure in a manner where is a balance between:

  1. Breadth: the number of families and categories of CIs that will be tracked.
  2. Depth: the extent to which component CIs will be tracked. For example, the disk drives or cards within a server can be tracked as CIs.
  3. Detail: the number of attributes and types of relationships for each class of CI that will be tracked.

A good rule of thumb when designing a CMS structure is to lean on the side of collecting less detail rather than more. Not all available data provides value. In fact, collecting excessive data can lead to a CMS system that is expensive and difficult to build and maintain.

Once the CMS structure is defined, you should determine your organization’s CI population approach (this can include using a phased or wave approach) and the order of execution. It is also important to identify ownership and support group structure for all CIs. The following table provides an example of what this approach might look like.

configuration item population approach



Step 9: Establish an improvement process

It is extremely important to plan for improvements and their implementation. Usually, the most successful improvement programs are the ones that are designed to bring gradual but continual improvement. One of the most widely used improvement processes is the Deming Cycle: Plan; Do; Check; Act.

To ensuring your CMS is providing the expected value, review each of the CMS usages defined in Step 3, and then validate how well the CMS is meeting those needs. This requires a measurement and reporting strategy coupled with a continual improvement process. The ITIL library has dedicated a whole book to the subject of continual improvement and includes a detailed seven-step improvement process that provides a circular set of activities designed to help organizations improve. ITIL's continual service improvement book is a great starting point to address this need.


Benefits of the 9 steps

Using this nine-step approach can help you develop your own configuration management plan and reduce many of the frustrations experienced by your IT staff that read the ITIL library and still feel like they don’t know where or even how to begin. This approach also reduces the risk associated with attempting to implement a CMS/CMDB without adequate analysis and design, namely the risk of an outcome that is not required, or of a tool set that provides little value or management capability.

Marty Likier is a senior consultant in Forsythe's IT service management practice. He can be reached at mlikier@forysthe.com.

CMS, ITIL, ITSM, Forsythe, CI

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