Putting Configuration Management in its Place

I feel guilty every time I teach ITIL Configuration Management. Even though I’ve taught hundreds of students the foundations of ITIL and more than 95% of them pass the ITIL Foundations Exam, I still feel a twinge of guilt. Why would I feel guilty about teaching a core concept of ITIL? The simple answer is that students will waste significant resources trying to implement ITIL Configuration Management with little or no return for their investments.

Every time I teach this material I rack my brain trying to find ways to directly tie Configuration Management to business value. I have come up with some unique approaches to teaching this material and I think I have helped many students understand how to approach building a CMDB in much more efficient ways. However, a direct tie to business value eludes me.

Recently I have come to realize that there is no direct path between ITIL Configuration Management, the CMDB, and business value. ITIL does provide an example that will help make the tie between Configuration Management and business value. That example is the treatment of “satisfaction.” There is no direct way for an IT Manager to directly change satisfaction. Many organizations have tried in vain to directly improve their satisfaction numbers. Many even see the numbers reduced in response to their efforts. *(Dr. Deming provides the reasoning behind this effect in his theories on equilibrium in systems.)

ITIL teaches us to break satisfaction down into the formula Satisfaction = Expectation – Perception. By breaking satisfaction down in this way students learn that even though they have no tools that can directly influence satisfaction they can use indirect means to increase satisfaction. In my courses I teach techniques to manage customer/end-user expectations and to change perception which allow my students to effectively improve satisfaction.

Bringing our focus back to Configuration Management we have to ask the question; can we break Configuration Management into constituent parts that allow us to have an indirect effect on business value? The answer is NO, we can not. But there is a solution. The problem with Configuration Management is that it is conceptually at a level below all the other ITIL process areas. This means that we do not break down Configuration Management to provide a tie to business value. We must put something in place above it. Or in other words we need another piece of the puzzle that connects Configuration Management and business value.

Improving decision making is a goal that directly ties to business value. The missing link between ITIL Configuration Management and business value is a “Decision Support System” with the goal of “Improving Decision Making.”

Making better decisions requires better information and improved capabilities for evaluating that information. This is where ITIL Configuration Management comes into its own. It provides information about the IT environment and presents it in ways that make decision making more effective. Evidence for this can be found in the following phrases; “… to support all the other service management processes”, “Provide a sound basis for …” which come from the Configuration Management goals.

When you are having difficulty selling a Configuration Management project to the business, try thinking in terms of improving decision making. Thinking this way will also provide more natural boundaries for defining database systems, Configuration Management projects, and process flows between ITIL processes.

Join me next time when I will explain new ways for thinking about the CMDB that will help database architects better design the technology aspects of Configuration Management. It will also help Service Management Architects think about the problem of managing IT resources and improving the way IT Managers allocate resources.

* Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality,” By Rafael Aguayo, 1990, ISBN 0-671-74621-9