What do lasers, atomic clocks, GPSs, and drones have in common? They were all developed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) … as was configuration management!
In the 1950s, the DoD created a technical management discipline to track changes during complex systems development. Over the years, this discipline took on many iterations and names, until 2001 when a guidebook was published that established the technical management system we now know as configuration management.
Even though the configuration management process was pioneered by the defense department, it’s widely used today in software development, civil and industrial engineering, and numerous information technology applications—including IT service management.
So within the context of IT, what is configuration management? And what would be a good configuration management definition? Let’s explore why configuration management is important in information technology, how to develop an IT-focused configuration management plan, and the best configuration management tools you can employ.
Nowadays, nearly every organization uses technology to automate their processes. And configuring this technology (configuration management) is what makes their systems work. These systems can include an organization’s networks, operating systems, servers, data centers, configuration files, IT assets and infrastructure, and more—which is why keeping them up and running well is so critically important. CM tools that mange and audit the infrastructure, documentation, software, and requirements are key to success in configuration management.
To ensure traceability, IT systems must be carefully managed and include detailed tracking of all configuration changes. Otherwise, an organization and its end users are susceptible to data breaches, data leaks, and system outages. This is why many companies employ cybersecurity specialists, sometimes called configuration managers, who oversee the configuration management database (CMDB), configuration management plan, CM tools, and audit documentation. This ensures that managing of the entire infrastructure is done with software that is valuable.
Configuration management helps to make an organization’s change management processes more efficient by understanding its baseline configuration. It also provides the visibility needed to design changes that avoid potential problems. This is where configuration managers and data analysts can work together to make a big impact.
Configuration management can also improve the experience for an organization’s employees and customers by quickly finding and fixing bad configurations that could negatively impact system and business performance. These audits of infrastructure and documentation are critical in managing systems efficiently.
Speaking of system performance, the configuration management process can help optimize an organization’s IT systems and minimize downtime. On the occasions when there is an outage or security breach, CM tools will help an organization restore their system’s integrity faster since its configuration is well documented and automated. This can save an organization a lot of money. And this is also where both the configuration manager and computer systems manager can play an important role working in tandem. Regular audits of these systems, how they are managed, and their documentation ensure that there is less downtime in an outage.
One other way configuration management can cut costs is by eliminating redundancies in IT systems. Regular audits can identify these redundancies. Since the configuration manager will have a detailed knowledge of all the elements in their system’s configuration, they can avoid any wasteful duplication of technology assets.
The role of configuration management is to maintain systems in a desired state. Traditionally, system administrators did this manually or through custom scripting. However, today most organizations use software tools to automate configuration management, which lowers overall costs, complexity, and errors.
For example, through automation, configuration management tools can provision a new server within minutes (versus hours) with less room for error. Configuration managers can also use automation to maintain servers in the desired state, like a standard operating environment, without the need for provisioning scripts—which is very time-consuming.
Other key reasons why automated configuration management is now preferred to manual processes are:
Complexity—Having to manually sift through the configuration management data from a large-scale Wide Area Network (WAN) or enterprise-sized Local Area Network (LAN) quickly becomes complex to the point of impossibility, as well as being cost-prohibitive.
Scalability—For organizations experiencing rapid growth, having to quickly scale a network up without configuration management software is an arduous, time- and resource-consuming task.
Flexibility—Manual configuration management requires at least one full-time employee solely dedicated to overseeing operations, whereas software-run configuration management can be handled by multiple credentialed team members. This gives organizations the flexibility to efficiently allocate their staffing resources.
Value—By using automated configuration management tools, it’s easier to collect configuration data and apply predictive analytics to make more informed decisions relating to system maintenance, risk, and performance.
Since IT configuration management is a growing field, there are many roles that you can choose from, depending on your experience and education level.
Configuration management specialist. This entry-level role performs the day-to-day delivery of configuration management services and supports ongoing configuration management operations. They report to both the configuration manager and the configuration management analyst team and should have a bachelor’s degree in IT or several years of experience.
Configuration manager. This mid-level role aligns configuration management services with the configuration management plan, including establishing priorities, assigning activities, and tracking performance. They report to the CM process sponsor or, in smaller organizations, to the director of IT. They also have a bachelor’s degree with several years of experience.
Configuration management analyst. This mid-level role oversees and executes priority tasks with an emphasis on system reporting and analysis. They, too, report to the CM process sponsor and have a bachelor’s degree with multiple years of experience.
CM process sponsor. This executive role determines and authorizes the rollout of the configuration management process across all departments. Typically they have a master’s degree in IT, extensive experience, and a business or management background.
If this is a career that interests you, but you’ve yet to get a degree, you should consider earning yours online. Since experience is vital to securing a position in information technology and advancement within this field, many professionals are now working full-time while getting their education. And an online program, such as WGU’s, is a convenient way to do so since you can complete coursework and take tests at home, on your own schedule.
Now that we know why configuration management is important, why automated software is gaining popularity, and what roles oversee this critical function, let’s discuss how to properly implement a configuration management system.
To optimize success, you first must establish a clear vision of your organization’s objectives. Then you can develop an actionable strategy and plan for a system that adds value and enhances your organization’s processes.
Here are nine essential steps for an effective implementation plan:
Set governance framework and policy—including assigning a configuration management process owner and creating a Service Asset and Configuration Management (SACM) policy.
Define responsibilities and roles—including the configuration owner, manager, and database developers and administrator(s).
Establish primary use—determine how the system will support all IT disciplines across its service lifecycle.
Identify records—determine what data and records the system should hold to best support your organization’s configuration management plan.
Inventory current data repositories—including setting priorities for their use and the work required to scrub and gather data to support your new requirements.
Inventory existing tools—determine what’s available to collect, store, manage, and update data. This will help you develop the system’s structure and data model.
Select CI categorization—including using type, family, class, and a naming convention, which ensures the integrity of other IT service management processes.
Design system structure—one that aligns with its primary usages and optimally serves your identified priorities.
Implement improvement process—plan to deliver gradual but continual system improvement using the Deming Cycle: plan, do, check, and act.
Overall, working in configuration management, especially in an IT capacity, is a challenging occupation that requires extensive planning, organization, and maintenance. However, the rise of automated tools has made this role less demanding and more attractive to those interested in data analytics and systems management.
If you’re looking for a career in information technology that will be in high demand for decades to come and one with lots of potential for growth, joining a configuration management team may be a great fit!