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The promised benefits of a CMDB are rarely argued and generally desired. The realization of those promises, however, are evasive. Several years ago, there was talk of nearly 80% of CMDB efforts failing. Whether the number was accurate or not, its magnitude should be shocking. Years later, even after that shocking number made the rounds, organizations are still seeking the promises of a CMDB which should lead us to believe that value is believed to still be there. The question however is, are the efforts truly still failing or are the methods used to measure value failing? Of course, it’s probably some of both.
When people express their frustrations about CMDB efforts, it’s usually in the form of being too difficult or too expensive to implement. Many organizations struggle to even determine how or where to get started. Interestingly enough though, the desire apparently remains strong given the inquiries I continue to receive. It must mean people still believe that there is a lot of value waiting for them at the end of the CMDB rainbow.
The CMDB and support governance practice that is service configuration management is an enabling practice that realizes its worth through its use and consumption by others. Aggregating data and loading it into a tool provides no value if it’s not what the users of that system need or it’s so burdensome to consume that the effort turns unproductive. Delivering however less but more directed and purpose-oriented information at when the user needs it can prove to be far more valuable and productive to them and the service they are supporting/delivering.
That value could come from service desk who can quickly access your customer information, identify what devices you’re associated with, definitively select the specific device you’re calling about, and begin processing your request within seconds versus minutes of searching and asking questions that are easy and faster to infer with a viable CMDB. In addition to shortening call and on-hold wait times, it ensures higher data entry quality, which translates into faster resolutions and better overall operational metrics from which future decisions can be made. The other perspective to these soft savings is the business enablement opportunities that it offers. These savings can alternatively be viewed as growth potential without increasing headcount (a.k.a., cost) because the current staff is far more efficient while delivering better quality service and hence has bandwidth to take more calls or work on other tasks that may have been getting neglected.
Implementation of a CMDB must be viewed as the adoption of a system that eventually will become the backbone of operational and strategic decisions. When viewed as a traditional project, the various tactical efforts often quickly hyper-focus on targeted discrete results, losing track of the larger system objectives and goals. For example, aggregating and loading data from 20 different systems into one centralized tool without evaluating the necessity of the data is a classic. The effort wastes money without returning comparable value and distracts resources from other more value-driven tasks.
A systems perspective to CMDB implementations forces us to step back and look at the whole picture from the top and not expend energies on lower level efforts that don’t translate into visible and measurable value by the consumers and users of the CMDB. Moreover, it needs to translate into positive business outcomes, for example in the form of business enablement, service delivery cost reduction, service quality improvement, etc. As you can imagine, these are often difficult to directly measure and hence must be measured in terms of improvement by the processes that service configuration management engages with. If we continue with the previous example, reducing wait time in calling queues by 10% because the agents can access the data they need 50% faster with a viable CMDB. This is the measure that needs to be associated with the implementation and adoption of a CMDB. Traditionally, the measure and discussion would revolve around integration of 20 data sources, but that on its own is of no value. It is the delivery of the appropriate information in an easily consumable manner to someone at exactly the time when they needed it that is valuable.
CMDBs and operational decisions need data. More importantly and specifically, we need actionable information versus raw data. Data is almost always in vast abundance. However, actionable information isn’t and that requires high data quality in their respective sources along with reconciliation in the centralized decision-making platforms.
Often missing from the equation is broad system-level governance beyond the typical source-level controls. With all the constantly changing regulations, it’s important to remember that data elements on their own may not fall under regulatory or compliance restrictions. However, once aggregated and linked with other disparate data in a tool, it could form connections that collectively violate regulatory restrictions with regard to who can see or access it. This is another example of how a systems perspective is vital to the success of CMDB initiatives.
The approach to best address quality and reconciliation is to remember that it’s not about the amount of data provided but the quality. You need to understand the audience who will be consuming the data and what their needs are. Providing deeply technical details to first-level support not only requires a lot of effort, but it is likely to be confusing to them and not applicable to the type of work they need to accomplish. Ensure that your efforts to improve data quality are commensurate with who will be consuming it and what they are trying to accomplish.
Everyone knows that implementing changes in how work is done is difficult and always faces opposition. The type of resistance can come in multiple forms from obstruction, to self-preservation to fear of failing and being risk-averse. Regardless of the reasoning behind the resistance, it must be anticipated and dealt with. You need to understand why the individuals are resisting because it could and very often is legitimate. This is especially the case these days after decades of constant change, mergers, acquisitions, restructuring, etc. Don’t discount the roots of the resistance; embrace it and formulate your approach accordingly.
In some cases, it may simply be ignorance to what the CMDB efforts will mean to them while in others, it may be a concern about impacts to their jobs that drives self-preservation-oriented disruptive actions. It could also be simply a fear of failing or taking on a large risk because their organization doesn’t reward those behaviors and punishes perceived failure indiscriminately without acknowledgment of the risk-reward metrics.
You will encounter all sorts of individuals along the way that will take on the behaviors, and don’t be surprised if an initial supporter suddenly becomes an obstructionist. It could be that they just recognized that their prized data source that they’ve been using to report to senior leadership is deemed grossly inaccurate and now will be unintentionally showcased as such when reconciliation attempts begin against the official corporate repository. It could also be that they recognize the consolidation of data may render a team-level repository irrelevant moving forward and they will lose several direct reports who used to manage it. Be attentive and ensure you understand their motivation whether in support or opposition.
Quantifying value is by far the most difficult aspect of CMDB adoption in my opinion because it manifests itself in soft savings by a multitude of external process areas. In today’s corporate structure that is constantly and sadly almost always exclusively looking at bottom-line savings, it’s a hard discussion to have on soft savings that aren’t directly reflected on the bottom line of the ledger.
A significant reason for this is because we generally do a poor job in communicating the ultimate corporate benefits that it will enable and/or drive. Senior executives and corporate leaders frankly don’t want to hear about how much data was imported into the CMDB. They want to know how it helped drive business growth and/or reduce operational costs. Everything else is noise to them and irrelevant.
We need to demonstrate the value streams that viable CMDBs support and enable. We need to visually demonstrate the benefits of the existence of a viable CMDB. No longer can we keep talking about it in terms of data volumes or even low-level data quality. When expressing this value to our business partners, we need to use terminology that means something to the business, not the technicians. When talking with the technicians, we can talk to them about the value it provides at the intersection of asset management and inventory management but that same story must be translated into a business-oriented narrative as well when speaking with the business partners.
The value of a viable CMDB obviously still exists otherwise we wouldn’t be discussing the topic 20 or so years after the concept arose and 10 years after Glenn O’Donnell and I released our book, The CMDB Imperative. The foundational principles haven’t drastically changed nor have the challenges or benefits we described in the book. Sadly however, we’re still nowhere near the delivering on the promises we would have hoped to have achieved. The new perspective of telling the CMDB benefits story in terms of business value will hopefully be the spark that finally delivers on the promised benefits that we’ve all been waiting for.
Carlos Casanova is the president and solutions architect for Casanova Advisory Services, Inc., and the coauthor of The CMDB Imperative: How to Realize the Dream and Avoid the Nightmares. He is an internationally known speaker, IT architect, and leadership advisor with more than two decades of hands-on experience guiding CIOs and senior leadership to achieve effective IT operations and improve ROI from infrastructure investments. His expansive experience enables him to quickly assess their true needs and achieve better business outcomes. He takes the complexity out of today's cluttered IT and business environments to simplify their goals in order to accelerate achievement and success. Visit his website , and follow him on Twitter @CarlosCasanova and Facebook .
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