The ABCs of the Configuration Management Database (CMDB)

The CMDB is a popular topic these days. Everyone needs it. Few can explain it. Fewer can justify it. Software vendors developed products to support the ITIL process for Configuration Management. Analysts use terms like "federation" and "reconciliation" to help explain the gaps and benefits. Despite this awareness, the adoption of a CMDB has not kept pace with the market. Here are some frequently asked questions and my answers about a CMDB. If you need more help, reach out to me here.

1. What is a CMDB?

A Configuration Management Database (CMDB) tracks all physical and virtual assets and maintains them in one place. The elements of people, process, and technology integrate with the entire IT infrastructure. This ultimately provides one complete view of IT configurations that are easy to understand, track, and manage.

2. Can you display a representation of a CMDB?

Think of the CMDB as a pyramid where you have your common data on the bottom that feeds up into your services and the business utilizing people, process, and technology - your customers. See a snapshot to the right.

3. How are Business Services typically used in terms of a CMDB? Can you give an example?

A business service is the work that supports the distribution of the services of a business, whether it's physical or virtual. In terms of a CMDB, this is ranked as a middle tier. Underneath that, you have your common data and how that relates to your services.

Let's take HR business services for an example. When HR onboards someone, they may need to set the associate up with an email address, Salesforce, Workday, a workstation - essentially four different application services the user may consume. Once that user is set up, they are tied to those individual services, which is when we can see the universe of people that consume each of those services, from the business service layer on down.

4. Currently, my CMDB has multiple sources. What are your thoughts about that?

Having multiple sources is fine you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. The idea of the CMDB is to aggregate data from multiple sources to have one single source of truth. If you're having trouble with this, please reach out to us so we can explore this further for your organization.

5. We use another tool to manage our CMDB. What would need to happen to migrate to ServiceNow®?

In order to migrate to ServiceNow, we need to take a look at your current tool, what fields and data we need to migrate, and makes sure that information holds value. Then evaluate that data as part of the ServiceNow system. Reach out to our team today for an evaluation.

6. Organizationally, what are best practices for managing the CMDB?

In general terms, for any size organization, you'll want to know, at minimum, who is supporting each part of the CMDB. For larger organizations, it could be broken down into different regions or groups. For small organizations, it may be more about addressing those bare minimums and figuring out who is supporting each part of the CMDB. Depending on the organization and their maturity level, we can address this during implementation.

Successful ServiceNow implementations start with a comprehensive plan and follow the ServiceNow Implementation Methodology (SIM). The CAI approach begins with a strategy tailored to your business needs, focused on process improvement and organizational enablement. We have the expertise to maximize your ServiceNow investment and deliver your projects on time and on budget.

7. Do you recommend reorganization when implementing a CMDB?

Depending on the state of your organization, we may recommend a reorganization. Realistically, we cannot reorganize your entire corporation overnight  it may take months. Our goal is to move as fast as we can without really impacting the business. When CAI goes into implementation, we encourage our customers to take the crawl-walk-run approach.

Contact CAI, a ServiceNow Elite Partner, and we can further evaluate the need for reorganization in your company in order to implement a CMDB.

8. What are practical steps to address CMDB improvement?

  1. Take a look at the health of your CMDB. Getting to a healthy state is probably the most important step at this point of the evaluation. The health dashboard that comes with the CMDB can be enabled at any time.
  2. Assess the data quality coming into the CMDB.
  3. If you are looking at the dashboard and see that you are missing data, there is duplicate data, or you have some fields that need to be filled in, it is time to assign tasks. We can set that metric data for you and create tasks for people to work on.
  4. Take it from there and adhere to the CSDM model.

CAI offers CMDB Healthcheck Services to help our customers achieve significant improvement.

9. How do I learn what I don't know about my CMDB?

  1. We need to establish which data coming in is considered your "golden data." If you've had a CMDB for a while, and you have multiple data sources, it's likely all over the place and you may not be sure which is good data anymore. Addressing the source is most important.
  2. We'll want to look at the health by going back to the CSDM and identifying any issues. We need to figure out where the problem lies, what is the root cause of your mess  and if it is process-related.
  3. Once we take a look at how your process is working today we'll implement a plan for improvement. Then we can determine the steps towards having that data aggregated in your system and finding your golden set of data, ServiceNow.

Bottom line: You "don't know what you don't know" until you know. Let us review your current state and we'll let you know what's going on. Contact CAI, and we can fill in the blanks.

10. We already have a solid foundation built with CMDB. What's next?

If your CMDB is healthy and ongoing, take a look at your services. How do those services relate to your common data?

You have the common data of the CSDM built, but now you need to build some barriers that's your application layer. We can then look at your business capabilities and how to best conceptualize everything under one roof.

11. Describe a typical CMDB implementation process timeline and approach?

CAI follows ServiceNow's best practices implementation methodology. We provide a project team consisting of an Engagement Manager and Senior Technical Subject Matter Expert, among others. We conduct a formal workshop to define requirements and address any challenges or roadblocks upfront. We then build implementation plans. Our normal project timeline is around a 23 month approach. Of course, this all depends on your organization's adoption of the CMDB.

12. Can you give an example of a company that implemented CMDB and the impact?

Last year a financial services company refined their ServiceNow environment by implementing ServiceNow's Discovery and ServiceMapping modules. This company's IT environment includes 100,000 devices and 5 core enterprise applications. They needed an updated CMDB in order to monitor all of their assets. The client worked with CAI to retire their outdated tools and implement ServiceNow's ITOM tool, allowing them to map application relationships and improve visibility into application-level relationship data. Check out the solution and benefits here.