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What is a CMDB and How Does it Work?

A CMDB or Configuration Management Database is your digital filing system, storing all information related to the configuration items of your organization’s IT infrastructure and their relationships to each other. This provides IT teams the complete visibility of the various components revolving around IT services.

What is a CI (Configuration Item)?

The CI or configuration item refers to the most fundamental unit that makes up the configuration management system. This is any component – hardware or software – that is part of your IT infrastructure. Examples of this include servers, digital applications, and virtual machines.

Keeping track of your diverse set of IT components can be a bit of a minefield. With so many business processes hinging on technology and as demands constantly change, an updated and accurate CMDB is a crucial resource for key decision-making when it comes to ensuring ITSM best practices are maintained.

In this article, we’ll cover the key features of a good CMDB, its benefits, as well as the challenges IT teams can face when creating their CMDB along with best practices to counter these.

Features of a CMDB

What are the key characteristics of CMDBs? There are many solutions in the market, but as a guideline here are some of the most important features of a CMDB you should be without.

1. Reporting Dashboards

Accessibility to reporting dashboards that give you a bird’s eye view of the health of your CIs, changes, incidents, and problems is a no-brainer. This would enable you to spot any risks or flag up potential issues, mitigating them before they become a real problem.

2. Compliance

Having your CI data in one place means that when it comes to auditing time, you know exactly where to go for these records. No need to faff around looking for the key information you need. These can include records of changes, incidents, current CIs, and more.

3. Access Controls

This provides you with a level of control over who can see or use specific applications or services. The ability to configure who gets what access as and when needed not only ensures better adherence to data security best practices but also makes it easier to trace back to the source of an issue should it occur, which can greatly help your incident management and problem management processes.

4. CI Creation and Data Population

Your organization most likely has many IT components from multiple sources, manually inputting them into your CMDB will be a mammoth task. Therefore, the best CMDBs provide various methods for CI creation and data population that accommodate the different types of components and sources. For example, IFS assyst 11.5 offers cloud discoverability features, enabling you to auto-populate CMDB data of cloud-based resources.

5. IT Service Mapping

This is the ability to gain a visual representation of your IT services and the various relationships and dependencies related to them. Having this view enables you to see what components are impacted by an incident, change, or problem and how big this impact can be.

Benefits of Using a CMDB

Seeing some of the features of CMDB, some of the key benefits of using a CMDB are pretty apparent. Let’s look into them further.

1. Creates a Single Source of Truth

No more rummaging around for siloed data of your IT infrastructure. Having one go-to place for your information removes data duplication, meaning there’s no risk of second-guessing which is the correct data. This also makes it easier to update the data as there’s only one place to maintain.

2. Supports Effective Risk Management

The ability to track the health of your CIs means that you can keep an eye out for patterns of incidents and problems, and fix them before they become real issues. And on the occasion that incidents happen, pinpointing the source and seeing other affected areas become easier to do, too. The same can be said for carrying out change projects; it’s much easier to see which related components can be impacted by the change you’re looking to implement.

3. Helps Data-driven Decision-making

Deciding the fate of your IT services whilst in the dark is a recipe for disaster. Having historical data on your IT infrastructure enables you to make smarter and more educated decisions. You can then make better plans on how you can improve the cost, value, and productivity of your IT services.

4. Makes Compliance Easier

With all your records in one place, keeping a paper trail is a walk in the park – but paperless. In cases you have to prove compliance regarding your business and IT processes, you have the supporting data easily accessible.

5. Lowers Costs

Having an accurate CMDB can help reduce your assets’ total cost of ownership. As incidents become easier to resolve, you can minimize the costs involved in maintenance and resources wasted on service downtimes. This leads to lower costs and higher value extracted from your IT assets.

Challenges of Using a CMDB

CMDBs offer organizations many benefits, yet still many fail to maximize the value of their CMDB solutions. In fact, approximately 75% of CMDBs are failing to provide value to justify organizations’ investments, according to Gartner. What’s the problem?

1. People and Culture

As with any new technology and process, their success relies on the people propelling the change. But how can organizations realize the benefits of CMDBs when people are not on board? How often are they used? Who’s keeping them updated? To make the most of your CMDB, the people involved must be aligned with what you want to achieve with CMDB.

2. Ensuring Data is Accurate

Ensuring the data in your CMDB is accurate is easier said than done. This can be due to the ineffective use of discovery and automation tools available and relying too much on manual processes. It’s important to set everything right up from the start to ensure data is true and accurate.

3. Data Relevance

When it comes to the CMDB, there can be a thing as too much data. This happens when organizations indiscriminately input all data into their CMDB without much consideration of why they’re there. Not all data needs to be tracked and kept, so it’s important to be intentional and keep information that is useful and relevant to your processes.

4. Having Multiple Data Sources

It can be overwhelming having multiple data sources feeding into your CMDB. How can you ensure you can capture these all accurately? What is the best way to categorize them? Too many sources can be confusing and risk information falling in between the cracks, leading to data inaccuracy.

5. Maintenance

Bringing all these together can make the maintenance of your CMDB a real challenge. What is the most effective way to maintain the accuracy, relevancy, and usability of your CMDB without sacrificing time and resources? With so many organizations still stuck in manual data input and other related processes, maintenance is not only costly but also time-consuming.

The Difference Between ITAM and CMDB

ITAM and CMDB are closely interlinked, so it’s no wonder they’re often mistaken as the same. But in fact, their focus and approach are substantially different.

ITAM (IT Asset Management) tracks all IT assets and where they’re at in the asset lifecycle. The focus and approach tend to be centered around the financial aspects of the assets and how to extract the maximum value from them.

CMDB (Configuration Management Database), on the other hand, focuses on the practical aspects. Its approach centers around tracking the health of IT components or CIs that are necessary for the daily operations of IT services and ensuring they’re running smoothly.

While the two practices work incredibly well together, they can work independently. Depending on the needs of an organization, they can choose to use CMDBs as part of their IT asset management or run a CMDB without ITAM.

CMDB Best Practices

To reap all the benefits CMDBs can offer, there are some key practices you need to get right.

1. Decide What Should Go into the CMDB

Not all data is good data. You should be intentional about what you put into the CMDB. Consider the use cases and why you need to put them there. Are these metrics actionable? Are they relevant to compliance procedures? Are they tied to key IT service processes? These are just some questions to consider when deciding what data should go into your CMDB.

2. Document, Document, Document

What’s going on with your CMDB? As important as it is to keep your CMDB updated, so is updating related documentation. Otherwise, who’s going to know what changes have happened? How can a new person navigate through the different data available and make sense of it all? Without proper documentation, it’ll be difficult for decision-makers to get a good grasp of the vital information your CMDB provides.

3. Develop the Practice of Maintaining Data Accuracy

Your CMDB is only as good as the data you put in. And as your business environment constantly evolve, your tech is most likely doing the same. Therefore, it’s important to develop the practice of ensuring data is updated and accurate. Set a regular time when you cross-check the inputted data is correct and make sure the automated processes you’ve set up are working as they should.

Build a Streamlined and Accurate CMDB with IFS assyst

Creating an effective CMDB that organizations can fully leverage is no easy task but when done right, it provides a great amount of value to the business. IFS assyst is helping enterprises better manage their CMDB even in the most complex IT environments.

Want to know more? Why not take a chance to discover how IFS assyst can help you build a streamlined and accurate CMDB? Contact us today for a quick chat!

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