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What are the differences between configuration management and IT asset management?

differences between configuration management and IT asset management

IT Asset Management (ITAM) and configuration management are both useful practices that can benefit any organization using IT. Both of these practices are concerned with the management of IT assets, but focus on different things. This blog focuses on the difference between CMDB and asset management. 

Configuration management can exist without IT asset management – and in fact, it does in many organizations. Conversely, IT asset management can’t really exist without some form of configuration management, as this provides a strong base of trusted and accurate data about the IT assets.

Before exploring the differences between IT asset and configuration management, it is first important to understand their definitions.

What is IT asset management?

ITAM is defined as a set of business practices that join financial, contractual (such as software licenses), and inventory functions (such as configuration management) to support lifecycle management and strategic decision-making for the IT environment. This definition clarifies that IT asset management, unlike configuration management, is not just about keeping the books. IT asset management leverages related processes, including configuration management, to maximize the benefits to the organization.

In order to understand what IT asset management is, it is first important to define an asset. ITIL v3 defines an asset as anything that could ‘contribute to the delivery of a service’. ITIL 4 defines an asset as ‘any financially viable component that can contribute to the delivery of an IT product or service’. It defines IT asset management as ‘the practice of planning and managing the full lifecycle of all IT assets.

IT asset management is therefore concerned with managing everything used in IT to provide the services, through the entire lifecycle of IT assets from inception to retirement.

IT asset management is used for:

  • Properly classifying your assets based on their unique characteristics so they can be managed appropriately through an asset register
  • Providing visibility into your assets so you know where they are located at any given time
  • Ensuring that your assets are disposed of properly once they reach their end-of-life or no longer meet current needs
  • Making sure you have adequate controls in place to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data stored on your systems
  • Auditing financial worth by utilizing built-in reports that show how much money was spent on each item purchased
  • Tracking the costs of cloud components and services, including software licenses, storage, data transfer and more

What is configuration management?

Configuration management, sometimes known as service asset and configuration management or SACM, is the practice responsible for ensuring that an organization’s IT assets required to deliver services are properly controlled and that accurate and reliable information about those assets is available when and where needed. Contrast this with IT asset management, which is more concerned with using information to make strategic decisions. 

The goal of configuration item management is to ensure that accurate and reliable information about the configuration of services and the configuration items that support them is available when and where needed. ITAM is just one potential customer of configuration management.

The information required for configuration management includes details of how the assets have been configured and the relationships between different assets. Each asset in configuration management is known as a Configuration Item (CI) and is a component that needs to be managed in order to deliver an IT service.

Configuration management is used for:

  • Identifying CIs in an environment such as hardware devices or software applications 
  • Adding new CIs as they are identified 
  • Modifying existing CIs after they have been added
  • Removing obsolete components from the system
  • Updating CI information after changes have been executed on components
  • Simulating impact on services when one or more CIs is modified or affected

Differences between IT asset and configuration management

ITAM cannot exist without configuration management, as this provides a strong base of data about the IT assets. Configuration management can exist without IT asset management

IT Asset Management (ITAM)Configuration Management Database (CMDB)
It is a set of business practices that join financial, contractual, and inventory functions to support lifecycle management and strategic decision-making for the IT environment. It is an IT practice responsible for ensuring that an organization’s IT assets required for services are properly controlled, and that accurate information about those assets is available when and where needed.
TAM works with units called IT assets defined by ITIL as ‘any financially viable component that can contribute to the delivery of an IT product or service’.Each asset in configuration management is known as a configuration item (CI). They are components that need to be managed to deliver an IT service.
Used for tracking IT asset inventory and usually deals with the financial and business value of the IT assets in an organization.Configuration management is used to ensure if a CI is operational. To ensure minimum impact when the asset is changed or upgraded.
If an item has some financial value and you need to track its financial or contractual aspect, it’s an asset. The value of an asset might depreciate over time and eventually get to zero.A CI could be a hardware asset or a software asset, or it could be multiple assets that are combined to provide an IT service.
Asset management is both deeper and broader than configuration management.Configuration management is basic and fundamental to any organization with a growing IT ecosystem.

Bonus pointers

What is the difference between an asset register, a CMDB, and IT Asset Management?

An asset register is a database or list of assets, capturing key attributes required for financial management such as ownership or financial value. Most countries have legislations that require organizations to keep an accurate record of the financial value of all of the assets that they possess. The total value of the assets, both fixed and intangible, has to be included in annual reports.

Unlike a CMDB, an asset register does not usually contain information about the relationships between assets. The assets may have different classifications to help with financial asset management where different types of assets can have different rates of depreciation, but this is not the same as the relationships held in a CMDB.

Managing an asset register is sometimes mistaken as asset management or fixed asset management, but it is not the same as what we now call IT asset management. Historically, management of assets was limited to recording the purchase value of the asset, recording any disposals, and depreciating the value of the asset being managed over time. Whilst the information may have been used to identify high-cost assets, the historical asset management was more concerned with bookkeeping, whereas IT asset management is about using the data and information to make strategic decisions.

Maintaining an accurate asset register is crucial to successful IT asset management, as strategic decisions should be based on accurate costs. An asset register should also be consistent with a CMDB, although the data required for configuration management will frequently be at a much lower level than the data required for asset management. For example, configuration management for a storage system might include low-level data on each disk, controller, and cable, whereas asset management may only have a single item for the storage system.

What types of assets can be managed with IT asset management and configuration management?

The scope of both IT asset and configuration management includes many different types of assets. As long as the asset or configuration item is used to provide an IT service, it can be in the scope of IT asset and configuration management. However, many organizations restrict the scope of their configuration management practice and the items in the CMDB to physical, tangible assets and configuration items such as IT equipment and components.

It is important to ensure that the scope of the activities for both IT asset and configuration management balances the risks and rewards against the costs of management. This can be done by varying the levels of management of assets and configurations for different types and categories of assets. Many organizations prioritize managing the following types of IT assets and configuration items:

  • Hardware: These are physical IT components, including desktop computers, servers, network equipment, and storage
  • Software: These include applications, operating systems, and databases.
  • Portable devices: In these, we have mobile devices, such as laptops, PDAs, smartphones, and tablets

These types of IT assets are priorities for both IT asset management and configuration management as they tend to be critical to the operation of any organization’s IT services.

However, just restricting your IT asset management and configuration activities to these types can still result in more individual components than you have the capacity to manage. To address this issue, both your ITAM approach and your configuration management approach should consider what level is important to manage, using a risk-based approach. This is particularly true for hardware IT assets, such as low-level and low-value components, including cables and internal network cards.

Configuration management will tend to operate at a lower level than IT asset management, with configuration management providing ITAM with summarized information on key assets.

Manage your assets better with Virima

Effective configuration management is a prerequisite for IT asset management. Good configuration management will help you maximize the availability and reduce the risks of your IT services. IT asset management can save your organization money by helping to identify and remove unused IT assets and by supporting compliance with legislation.

Virima offers you a set of tools and solutions to address IT’s most critical management challenges and will help you improve the overall health of your estate while enabling your organization to benefit from configuration management, including your CMDB, and from IT asset management. Learn more here. 

Virima’s IT Asset Management (ITAM) and Configuration Management Database (CMDB)  solutions can help you maximize the value of business processes and service management investments. 

Virima provides flexible discovery options to help you collect data from your physical and virtual infrastructure. Virima is a leading provider of IT Asset Management and CMDB solutions for enterprises. Virima helps you achieve CMDB success through flexible infrastructure discovery, multi-cloud support, automated dependency and service mapping, IT Asset Management and a full-featured CMDB featuring the Virima Visual Impact Display (ViVID) and deep integrations into many popular ITSM platforms.

To learn more about Virima’s IT and service management solutions, request a demo with Virima today!

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