Asset Management vs. Configuration Management: Mastering the Difference

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Masters of asset management and configuration management appear to travel in different circles, with different processes to manage their practice, even speaking a different language. But configuration items (CI) are still assets and assets are; thus configured – right? In many cases, yes. So, what’s the difference and why are they managed as if they’re separate entities? This blog will explain the difference in simple terms, shedding light on why the two practices are so different.

Asset Management Explained:

According to Wikipedia:

Asset management is a systematic process of developing, operating, maintaining, upgrading, and disposing of assets in the most cost-effective manner (including all costs, risks and performance attributes).

The practice of asset management is concerned with the financial management of an organization’s assets. In practical terms, this is not strictly an IT-only practice, but more of an enterprise-level practice, concerned with all assets owned by the organization, from buildings and office infrastructure down to the smallest IT asset. IT asset management (ITAM), as a practice takes responsibility for managing IT-related assets or “service assets” in IT service management (ITSM) terms.

In the IT practice of asset management, all infrastructure, personal computing, and software assets are in scope, and the focus is on the contract and/or financial aspects of understanding IT’s investment. Organizations will approach this in either or both of two different ways:

  • Infrastructure or silo-based financial management (i.e., server costs vs. networking or software)
  • Service-based financial management (or understanding total asset costs by service)

Asset management is concerned with the entire lifecycle of the asset, from its initial procurement or lease, through its assignment for use (or provisioning), throughout its use and into retirement. It ensures the asset’s location and use are tracked throughout it’s lifecycle and proper depreciation of capital assets is managed.

From a software asset management perspective, it also ensures that licenses are properly managed and that no software is deployed beyond procured licenses or that licenses are purchased to cover the level of use.

Asset management software assists IT organizations in managing the lifecycle of each asset, from their initial procurement, through assignment to an individual or a service (in the case of infrastructure) and through to eventual retirement. For this reason, the asset management process is tightly integrated with service request fulfillment, which will remove the asset from inventory and assign it, as well as change control, which will govern the asset’s move into production use through to retirement. It should be noted that while personal computing assets could be governed through change control using standard changes, most organizations manage them through the request fulfillment process.

Configuration Management Explained:

To many, the description above may sound a bit like configuration management, but there is a distinction: configuration management is concerned with the use and configuration of service assets, rather than managing their costs and/or contracts, licensing, ownership and disposal. Using the same diagram as before, configuration management is concerned with the shaded area of the asset lifecycle. In a nutshell, configuration management is concerned with the following aspects of each service asset:

  • How it is used: personal vs. infrastructure
  • The assets connected to it
  • The service(s) it supports
  • The relationship between it and other assets, or in this context, configuration items
  • It’s configuration

Configuration management is primarily a technical or engineering practice rather than asset management, which is more of a business process. From an IT service management perspective, there are two critical aspects of configuration management:

  • Service configuration: the assets that comprise an operational service and how they are connected
  • Item-level configuration: the technical configuration of the item itself. For example, in the case of a server, it’s operating system, patches, memory, disk drive capacity, and so forth.

Both aspects are critical to effective IT Operations in differing ways. Understanding or documenting service configuration is important to prioritizing IT efforts. In the case of monitoring infrastructure, when a CI becomes non-operational, Operators need to know the service(s) it supports and levels of redundancy in order to evaluate the impact of the issue.

According to Wikipedia:

Configuration management (CM) is a systems engineering process for establishing and maintaining consistency of a product’s performance, functional, and physical attributes with its requirements, design, and operational information throughout its life.

While supporting prioritization and root cause analysis is an extremely critical role for configuration management, understanding the configuration of assets is also vital to effective operations and should be managed down to the personal computing level, even though this is considered by many to be too large an effort. When it’s not managed, however, it’s difficult to ensure the security of the environment or fully identify the root cause of a problem (is it the type of PC or patch level causing a software issue or an application issue?). In other words, it’s the configuration management process that assures consistent operation of a service or computing device.

Modern ITSM platforms have made this effort far easier for organizations, by automating discovery and service mapping. Once maintaining configuration management data becomes automated, it’s far easier for organizations to achieve true configuration management and human effort can be focused on ensuring the quality of the data collected and building out non-discoverable, financial and management data for assets.

Asset Management and Configuration Management Today

Manual asset and configuration management is greatly enhanced with applications that provide automated discovery and service mapping, along with contract management and basic asset and configuration management features within the same toolset. All of the asset and configuration management data is stored in the same system, and the entire lifecycle can be managed as separate parts of a holistic process:

  • An asset is requested and procured
    • If leased, contracts are uploaded and stored in the contract management application
    • The asset record is created
  • The asset is provisioned to a user or for a service
  • The asset is configured and added to a production environment, governed by change control or request fulfillment
    • The asset record is updated, and the item can now be considered a configuration item as well
    • The record is updated to include its use and support information
  • Discovery finds the asset and updates its configuration record, adding configuration and service mapping
  • Over time, when repair history/incident history warrants retirement (or as part of the planned retirement of equipment), the item is removed from production
    • The record indicates it’s no longer in use
    • Asset management procedures take over the financial retirement of the asset
    • The record is updated showing the asset has been retired
    • Discovery no longer sees the asset

Typically, while different groups manage the financial and configuration aspects of the asset, they are working on distinct views of the same record, enabling the organization to properly manage the item from procurement through retirement with as much automation as possible.

The only concept to add to this is the role of virtual instances. There are still financial aspects to be considered; thus, each virtual environment is often considered an asset, although the organization will need to make certain decisions concerning environments that are instantly provisioned/de-commissioned through automation, to manage the capacity of a service. Once the rules are set, the asset and configuration management tool should have the ability to adjust appropriately and is often integrated with cloud management tools to enable this level of management for virtual / cloud environments.

In short: asset management and configuration management enjoy a front of the hand/back of the hand relationship. On one side is the management of the financial aspects of the item, on the other its use and configuration.

Learn more about how Virma’s powerful discovery capabilities solves both IT asset management and configuration management challenges or schedule a demo today.

Mike Bombard

Mike Bombard

Mike Bombard COO Virima Technologies - Mike joined Virima Technologies (Atlanta, GA) in 2010 and oversees Virima ITAM/ITSM SaaS product sales, marketing and field services organizations. He has been providing solutions to solve complex IT challenges in a variety of industries for over 25 years.

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