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It's time to merge asset and configuration management tools

Big data is one reason CIOs should be thinking about merging asset and configuration management tools; licensing risk exposure is another.

Many IT shops use separate asset and configuration management tool sets, but Ken Lewis, service management consultant with PA Consulting, makes a strong case for merging the two systems in the second part of this SearchCIO podcast.

In the first part of this podcast, PA Consulting's Derek Lonsdale explained where configuration and asset management overlap, where they differ, and why it's critically important that the lifecycle of both processes be in sync for service delivery optimization.

IT shops use different asset and configuration management tools. Why should you move to an integrated tool set?

Ken Lewis: The key here is that the common vendor, the vendors like BMC or ServiceNow, generally take and create a data model that combines both the attributes of the asset, as well as the attributes of a configuration item.

Now, that doesn't mean you can't try having two different vendors -- one dealing with asset and another vendor dealing with configuration. But now you're adding more trouble to the situation from the standpoint that you may worry about integration between the two tool suites. You also have to worry about data harmonization. In other words, both records at each of the systems have to match. So that adds a whole new complexion to the audit and verification aspects.

If you start to think about using two different vendors, you'll probably have to deal with two suboptimal solutions.

Ken Lewis

If you start to think about using two different vendors, you'll probably have to deal with two suboptimal solutions. Then you have to add the additional labor component that you need to make sure those two solutions work in conjunction. Now, many companies have to do that from just a legacy standpoint. But ideally, we would suggest that you try to go to the common vendor and take advantage of the coordinated data model that they provide.

Are you finding that clients are going with what they already have in place? If I'm a Microsoft shop, am I more than likely to use System Center Configuration Manager?

I've seen the case where we had a client that has had to stick to their particular legacy system because their asset database was probably considered the better source of truth in that corporation. But the key was that particular database. Of course an asset database is more or less a registered list. So elements like the configuration's relationships are missing.

So, they have been struggling with the question of, do they keep their asset database and then add on a configuration database? At this point they're looking at going that second route.

So CIOs are willing to pay for that added cost?

They seem to be willing to take on the added cost. I have clients that have now decided to go with a one-vendor solution as well. Actually, one particular client used to have several separate asset databases, and basically chucked the whole thing and started over again. So the variations are all over the map.

What are the benefits to the business of having asset and configuration management work in harmony?

I think the benefits here in this particular realm ... [are clear] as we move into the era of big data. And in fact, you can see the example -- that simple thing called Google and its Weather Maps, and taking the weather data and putting it with geographic information. The same thing could be applied in the same principle here with configuration attributes mapped or merged or munged with assets cost information, as well as with …. licensing and contract information, or at least links to it.

By taking those two sets of attributes and having a common linkage between them, you can mash up these data sets. I think what you get -- and the benefit that comes out of this -- is that you can start to tie information from the configuration attributes, like service groups and service supported and ownership, which are additional attributes, and tie them together such that you can understand the cost of a service in its build, or even a release.

You can also estimate the cost of maintenance, because if you tie configuration items to incidences and problems, you can start to estimate the ongoing cost of services. Then you can also take the value of the assets and then tie it to business outcomes, such that you can see what the magnifying aspect is when you combine certain assets, and the benefit of common assets like network devices, and how much value they bring to the environment, as well.

So there are other benefits as well in the standpoint of licensing risk exposure. Using the combined attributes from both data sets allow you to identify risk exposure areas where you may be under-licensed. Or cost issues where you're over-licensed -- having software products that will be sitting in areas that don't normally need that particular piece of software. For example, hundreds of copies of [Visio] get wasted every year.

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What trends or challenges are causing your company to merge configuration and asset management?