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Asset management vs. configuration management

Asset management vs. configuration management: Is it really one versus the other?

Masters of asset and configuration management appear to travel in different circles, with different processes to manage their practice, even speaking different languages. 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

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

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 practice of IT asset management, all infrastructure, personal computing, and software assets are included 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.

ITIL 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 its lifecycle and proper depreciation of capital assets is managed.

Asset management is essential for keeping track of the state of your organization’s hardware and software, and ensuring that your business has access to only the licenses it needs. Here are some important activities in asset management:

Tracking and labeling assets’ locations and states through an asset register

A good asset register tracks where each piece of equipment is located and what its state is. For example, it can show whether a computer has been decommissioned or if it’s still being used by an employee or department. The register also tracks software licenses, which are allocated to specific computers or user accounts.

Tracking and managing software licenses

Software licenses are typically managed by a centralized group within IT — such as the help desk or technology services group — because they affect all users in the organization. The goal is to ensure that every employee has access to only those programs he needs, while avoiding any over-allocation of licenses that would result in unnecessary costs.

Managing end-user devices

IT departments need to manage their organization’s PC and mobile device inventory. This includes making sure that employees are using the right equipment for their roles and ensuring that devices are secure, backed up and properly maintained by employees.

Keeping tabs and handling decommissioned assets

 Asset management also helps with the disposal of old assets. This ensures that all equipment is properly disposed of when it reaches its end-of-life date or when it becomes obsolete. 

Configuration management

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 configuration management. 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 (CIs)
  • It’s configuration

ITSM configuration management is primarily a technical or engineering practice compared to asset management, which is more of a business process. From an IT service management (ITSM) perspective, there are two critical aspects of enterprise 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 the 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.

(See, “Your CMDB: Your ITSM-ITOM Connection”)

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.

Configuration management also helps ensure that everyone working on a project has access to all relevant information about it.

Configuration management activities include:

Identifying configuration items in the CMS

Configuration management is used in organizations to identify:

  • The components that make up an application or system
  • The relationships between the components
  • How the components are configured to work together

Configuration management is not just about managing configurations of IT systems; it’s also about managing changes to those configurations.

Controlling and managing all changes made to assets

Configuration management is responsible for identifying and controlling all changes to assets, including the supporting processes, configurations, and documentation. Configuration management provides a common approach for integrating change control, configuration management data collection, and software release management. It should be understood that configuration management is not limited to managing systems and software. Configuration management is an enterprise-wide discipline that can be applied to any type of asset that needs to be managed across various processes and projects.

Understanding impact on services when one or more CIs is modified or affected by a change request

The main purpose of configuration management is to ensure that the changes made to a system are properly authorized, documented, tested and applied. This involves establishing baselines for CIs, defining how they should be configured, and monitoring their actual configuration against those baselines. Configuration management can help you to track the state of your systems, and make sure that any changes are made safely and consistently. 

Simplifying gathering information and identifying dependencies

A good CMDB will contain all relevant information about an asset, including its current location and state, who uses it, when it was last updated and so on. It helps ensure consistency across your entire environment by configuring every asset once only — using pre-defined rules — rather than manually configuring each asset separately for each use case or scenario.

In absence of configuration management, 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 asset 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 IT discovery and service mapping. Once 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 non-discoverable financial and management data for assets.

Asset and configuration management today

Asset management vs configuration management is not the right mindset for today.

Manual asset and configuration management is greatly enhanced with applications that provide automated IT 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:

  1. An asset is requested and procured
  • If leased, contracts are uploaded and stored in the contract management application
  • The asset record is created
  1. The asset is provisioned to a user or for a service
  2. 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
  1. IT discovery finds the asset and updates its configuration record, adding configuration and service mapping
  2. 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
  • IT asset management and ITIL 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. 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 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 and configuration management enjoy a ‘two-sides of the coin’ relationship. On one side is the management of the financial aspects of the item. On the other is its use and configuration. So it’s not really asset management vs configuration management. You need both!

Virima is here to help

Virima offers comprehensive asset and configuration management systems that enable IT organizations to manage their IT assets, software licenses, and security settings. Virima ITAM, powered by Virima Discovery, CMDB and Business Service Mapping, provides complete automation for the entire lifecycle of an asset from procurement through retirement. The integrated suite of tools allows you to automatically generate Service Level Agreements (SLA), record warranty claims and service contracts, track asset movements across your organization along with all maintenance activities.

Virima’s suite of feature-rich solutions provide you with a complete understanding of your IT assets and their related configurations. You can use it to accurately track the age of your hardware and software assets, identify potential security holes or license violations, proactively manage your software licenses and improve business continuity planning processes.

To get started, contact us today to schedule a demo and explore the possibilities!

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