ITSM for high-velocity teams

Configuration vs. asset management: what’s the difference?

Configuration and asset management go hand-in-hand, approaching a similar problem from different perspectives. Both are designed to help you understand what you own and how things are being used so you can make better decisions, improve the efficiency of processes, and save the business money. Configuration management is concerned with the utility, function, and availability of a cloud server while asset management focuses on the server’s value, ownership, licensing, and lifecycle. Both disciplines often extend beyond IT by tracking assets like office equipment, buildings, and vehicles, and including configuration items(CIs) like employees, vendors, and documentation. Configuration and asset management go hand-in-hand, approaching a similar problem from different perspectives.

What is configuration management?

Imagine a table held up by four legs. Configuration management focuses on what those legs are made of, how stable they are, and what might happen if you needed to repair one of the legs. Configuration management ensures that accurate and reliable information about the configuration of services, and the configuration items (CIs) that support them, is always available. Configuration management is about context - understanding the relationships between assets and the impact of changes to any given configuration.

What is asset management?

Imagine that four-legged table was one of 250 tables spread across 25 international offices. Asset management helps you understand where each of those tables are and what it costs the business to maintain them. IT asset management (also known as ITAM) is the process of cataloging, maintaining, upgrading, and disposing of IT assets. Put simply, it’s making sure that the valuable items, tangible and intangible, in your organization are tracked and being used efficiently. IT asset management is about content, creating an inventory of what we have, and keeping track of how we use it. 

Key differences and overlaps between configuration and asset management

Imagine an exercise ball. 50 employees across your 25 offices use them in place of chairs. There is nothing outside of the ball itself that makes it successful and usable. As such, those exercise balls will be found in your asset management tool but will not be found in your CMDB. At the same time, both asset and configuration management will track use of four-legged tables. This is because the tables are both valuable on their own and require a careful balance of four legs to be stable. IT assets that have intrinsic value and rely on other components to be successful represent the overlap of configuration and asset management. Any IT asset that has interdependencies with other IT assets will be tracked by both ITAM and configuration management disciplines.

CMDB vs asset management

CMDB stands for configuration management database, a file that clarifies the relationships between the hardware, software, and networks used by an IT organization. Many folks want to compare a CMDB with asset management. A CMDB is one outcome of the configuration management discipline, just as an ITAM tool is an outcome of the asset management discipline. It’s wrong to compare an outcome, like a CMBD, with a process like asset management. If your question is closer to, “Should my organization be doing configuration management or asset management?,” then the answer is almost certainly, “both.”

What are the benefits of asset and configuration management?

Investing in asset and configuration management fast tracks your incident response teams to the root cause. Leadership values ITAM and configuration management efforts as it clarifies the cost to run and maintain stable IT infrastructure and decreases the cost of incidents. Having a clear picture of the organization’s technology landscape helps IT teams be more successful when changes in assets and configurations are needed. When an incident happens, the cost of business disruption, overtime, extra work, and vendor fees is enormous and unaffordable. Asset management and configuration management decrease the frequency of incidents and increase your time to resolution. 

How are asset and configuration management used?

Tech companies invest a lot in the creation of new products, features, and services. These same companies then need to maintain stable delivery of those services for the entire lifecycle of the product or service. Asset and configuration management play important roles in the stability of systems over time. Imagine a new app that's running on a server with a five year life span, a SaaS tool on a two year license, PaSS offerings renewing annually, and a new microservices architecture built in house. What’s the next failure point? An ITAM tool will make it easy to find the server information and all your licensing and contract dates. A configuration management tool helps internal teams check that new introductions to the microservice architecture won’t break your existing app.

How to get started with asset and configuration management

Start by determining your goals and how you will measure success. Develop a lean approach to designing your service model architecture, focusing on what’s most important. Identify data, workflows, and roles that support key business processes. Next, outline your asset management tool and the basics of your CMDB. Your goal is for them to overlap where valuable IT assets are also managed as CIs in the CMDB. Feeling stuck? Check out our handbook to help you get started.