Maintaining control around our infrastructure and critical (as well as, often times, expensive) technology assets within our organization is important for several reasons. One, it allows us to make good financial and purchasing decisions. Two, it helps us to meet federal government requirements like FITARA. And three, it ensures that we understand how items are connected. The combination of great ITAM and Configuration Management makes onboarding and offboarding, root cause analysis (providing asset intelligence and traceability), as well as planning for changes and understanding impact (thus, avoiding unnecessary risk) in our environment much easier.
IT Asset Management and, in particular, Service Configuration Management can be difficult practices to get right, but they are worth the investment of time and energy to do well. In this article, we will provide an overview of IT Asset Management and Service Configuration Management. We’ll also discuss some of the similarities, touchpoints, and differences between the two, and talk about the new and expanded concepts introduced as part of the ITIL 4 library, including Hardware and Software Asset Management.
The Origins of Configuration Management in ITIL
Configuration Management as a process has been part of the ITIL library since the late 1980s (back when hair was big, and cutoff sweatshirts were cool). In fact, I remember learning about Configuration Management back when it was ITIL v2, which was released in 2001. At the time, the library was somewhat small. There were two key books with details on ten IT processes and a “function” – that of the Service Desk. In 2007, when ITIL v3 was released, the process was expanded; and the name was changed to Service Asset and Configuration Management (SACM).
With the release of ITIL 4, the SACM process was broken into two separate practices, IT Asset Management (ITAM) and Service Configuration Management. The reason for the change? The two practices interface with and support one another; however, they are different disciplines, which we will cover next.
IT Asset Management vs Service Configuration Management
The simplest way to explain the difference between these two practices is as follows:
– IT Asset Management is about content, understanding what we have and making sure we keep track of our very-important stuff, make good purchasing decisions, etc.
– Service Configuration Management is about context, understanding the relationships between our very-important stuff and how it all relates together, so we can understand impact.
Ah, the 80s. But I digress. Let’s dig into each practice and talk about what the ITIL 4 Practice Guides say about each one.
What is IT Asset Management?
IT Asset Management is a subset of overall Asset Management, which includes loads of assets outside of the IT organization. The figure below, pulled from the ITIL 4 ITAM Practice Guide (I’ve included details at the end of this article on how to download the Practice Guide for free), does a nice job of showing the relationship between Asset Management, ITAM, and Software Asset Management (SAM), which we will describe in more detail later.
The purpose of IT Asset Management is to plan and manage the full lifecycle of all IT assets, to help the organization:
– maximize value
– control costs
– manage risks
– support decision-making about the purchase, re-use, retirement, and disposal of IT assets
– meet regulatory and contractual requirements
Why IT Asset Management is Key
In ITAM, we’re determining what assets we care about tracking (mainly items that have some sort of financial value, say, anything over $500) and managing those assets throughout their life, from planning, ordering, and receiving to retirement and disposal (which may include a security aspect like wiping data from hardware). Good ITAM helps us ensure our IT assets don’t “sprout legs and walk off.” It allows us to properly depreciate said assets, plan when assets should be replaced (e.g., fleet replacement of laptops every three years), and maintain solid information on where and when we bought them, with details on the warranty, terms, and overall contract.
A strong ITAM practice also makes IT Service Costing, procurement, budgeting, accounting, inventory management, supplier management, and auditing much easier. Ultimately, the information we capture about IT assets should help us make good decisions. We don’t need to capture every bit of information about every single asset. This is one of the main issues we see with ITAM (and Configuration Management too). We tend to capture and track a ton of information because we don’t know what’s important. Unfortunately, we end up tracking a lot of irrelevant data; and it takes a lot of time to keep everything up to date. In fact, one of the key messages in the ITIL 4 ITAM Practice Guide is the following:
IT asset information should be relevant to the organization’s needs. There is no benefit in including all available data in an IT asset register or in blindly following examples from publications or other organizations. An ITAM practice is only as valuable as the information it provides is accurate, up-to-date, reliable, comprehensible, easy to use, and relevant. Even high-quality data is useless if it is not relevant to the organization’s needs. The careful selection of relevant data and optimal ways to maintain it are a key component of the organization’s ITAM approach.
It’s also helpful to discuss what won’t be tracked. For example, consumables like mice and cables don’t often make a lot of sense to track (and aren’t worth the time and effort it would take to do so).
Cloud Services and ITAM
Since the time that the ITIL v3 library of books were published (and even more so after the start of the pandemic), organizations have dramatically increased their use and reliance on cloud services. As such, a robust ITAM practice can help organizations make better decisions around cloud, namely, account for trends in usage and spend on cloud providers, manage contract renewals, understand and forecast overall demand and capacity, as well as control used and unused software licenses (which can quickly get out-of-hand if we’re not careful).