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Your Golden Ticket: The Hidden Power of CMDB in IT Digital Transformation

Learn how a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) can be a powerful tool in your organization’s IT digital transformation journey.

Digital Transformation may not be a new practice in IT Services, however with the digitization of products and services it’s moved from the back room to front and center.

Whether we’re creating or managing on the fly with microservices, serverless compute, or containerization and APIs, digital rules everything around us. From IT operations, service delivery and asset management to even the fundamental makeup of our company’s core products and services, it’s all gone—or going—to the cloud. With this comes a need to juggle legacy systems while transforming to what’s possible, and an even greater need for real-time visibility for monitoring security, compliance, software and hardware, end of life and compliance risks critical to infrastructure to keep today’s modern enterprise up and running—with all the added complexity that necessary change brings. 

Successful transformation begins with a solid digital foundation.  And while the nature of IT transformation is complex, the starting point for embracing the digital revolution has lived right at the center of our world all along; the Configuration Management Database, CMDB

Today the value of the CMDB to the business is our golden ticket
The CMDB has a long history of being deprioritized as just another IT tool. Considered a repository for all infrastructure, software, applications, and assets, the CMDB isn’t usually the first thing businesses think of as one of their most critical systems. But with true transformation comes the need for innovative problem solving and fresh perspectives, including our perceptions on the role and value of our CMDB. With data as one of our most precious, utilitarian and valuable business assets as connected internal and customer experiences become the standard, our CMDB is more than our warehouse—it’s our golden ticket.

How do we make the switch and prioritize our CMDB as an integral part of our IT operations and asset management motions?
It all starts with making sure we are populating the CMDB with the data that brings true business value, and not as a catch all for quantity versus quality. Use these best data management practices for moving your CMDB up the organizational priority, drive true change management so your key stakeholders understand the worth of data, connected resources and teams, governance, compliance, and security benefits it brings, and drive education on why it’s just as important to your business as your financial systems of record.

Make Value the cornerstone of your CMDB prioritization
Let’s face it: populating a CMDB with data or Configuration Items (CIs) and relationships has no real value in and of itself.  The true value comes from the processes it supports or the decisions that can be made from it. In order to make your CMDB a powerhouse in your IT infrastructure, you need to understand what value you want to drive out of the CMDB so you can chart the course for your specific journey. 

Initiatives prime for CMDB prioritization: 

  • Ensuring compliance and reducing friction in vendor collaboration challenges in IT Asset and Inventory Management
  • Reducing management overhead and costs with Data Center Consolidation and/or Cloud Migration 
  • Increasing efficiency and reducing integration friction in M&A
  • Reduce risk to the business by mitigating Security Vulnerability
  • Protecting your organization from self-inflicted issues and outages by implementing Enterprise Change Management and Impact Analysis
  • Help drive and support overall Application Rationalization and IT Transformation by giving visibility into innovation decisions 

Don’t overcomplicate things: choose an entry point initiative with the most potential business value and start from there. Once you’ve set your North Star, it’s time to drill down to the details to assess your IT health and increase your CMDB business value to support your journey – like a pro.

Pro Tip: Harness the Common Services Data Model (CSDM) 
In order to unify our organizational priorities and rally around the CMDB, we need to align on a common set of values, language and standards. A singular approach, common vocabulary and systems will allow you to enable service reporting, avoid duplication of tables and data, and remove upgrade obstacles that can derail your journey to IT transformation. 

That’s where having a Common Services Data Model (CSDM) makes all the difference.  The CSDM is a recommended set of standard service definitions across the ServiceNow platform and products that enables true service level reporting, as well as enabling and supporting multiple configuration strategies. And with business complexity rising as digital experience expands, having a common services data model is no longer just a “nice to have” … it’s table stakes for competing today.  

Ask yourself and your internal collaborators these questions to determine your need for a CSDM:

  • Do you have a standard way to talk about your digital services? 
  • Do you have real-time visibility into what IT resources your digital services are dependent on?
  • Do you have insights into where to immediately focus to solve problems when services slow down and become unresponsive?
  • Do you have instant knowledge into what services are impacted by security attacks?
  • Are you confident of full compliance in the case of an audit?

If you didn’t answer yes to all of the above, it’s integral to make CSDM a part of your model toolkit to ensure you have full visibility and alignment in data value, utilization, hygiene, compliance, governance, risk and security. Think of it as establishing your base so you can tackle greater challenges with confidence. 

Now that your CSDM is in place, you can move on to managing your digital services in a real-time way that ensures you can make planned changes without impacting your business, address incidents resulting from an unplanned change, all while your employees and customers are blissfully unaware that any of it occurred in the first place.

Pro Tip: Unify language to proactively monitor and ensure data quality 
The CMDB is sometimes referred to as the heart of the IT environment, and rightly so. It’s the center of world in terms of IT health and visibility into configuration information, resources and the dependencies between those resources required to deliver digital services. And just as like a real heart, it’s critical to keep it in shape by being just as vigilant about what fuels it and what can potentially clog the arteries. 

One key area data quality comes into play is the need to federate with other systems. After taking the time to clean up your data and driving change management around business value, the last thing you want is to have all that foundational work ruined by ingesting data from outside sources without the same standard of quality. 

Potential pitfalls to look out for when factoring in outside systems:

  • Make sure you’re not duplicating existing data when federating with other systems during a Data Dump or Data ingestion.
  • Ensure you’re normalizing federated data to use the right entity in the CMDB.
  • Be mindful of human error when integrating data, even with rules around hygiene and standardization in place.

It’s a no-brainer that adding in outside collaborators creates another layer of complexity and risk when it comes to data management. That’s where technology is our co-pilot for reducing friction and simplifying the federation process. Solutions like ServiceNow’s Identification and Reconciliation Engine (IRE) allow technology partners to start certifying the data that gets entered into the CMDB before it’s ingested into your system. Think of it as your first line of defense in protecting all your previous work and bringing your vendors and outside sources into your collaboration group for ensuring data quality and hygiene.

And if you already use ServiceNow, it gets better. Our out-of-the-box solutions for auto-populating the CMDB natively use the Identification and Reconciliation Engine (IRE), helping to do the work for you.

Pro Tip: Accelerate decision making by understanding dependencies and CI 
Laying the foundations of data management, standardization and federated data integration opens up the next phase of your CMDB process: impacting and accelerating decision making by harnessing data insights. Now that we have our data in one heart and have its health under control, we can drive true transformation – on small and large scales – by tracking, visualizing, and reporting on the relationships between Configuration Items (CI)s and their dependencies to one another. And the best way to do that is to start with automated dependency mapping or ‘Service Mapping.’

Service Mapping is vital for:
Delivering efficient IT Services. Power up your Change Management process by mapping Configuration Items (CIs) to your Services enabling stakeholders to make informed decisions by visualizing business impact of a change in real-time. Mapping CIs also helps keep your IT and business partners are on the same page about issue and event resolution by surfacing affected services for alignment in response and planning. This unified approach enables IT teams to launch or resolve incidents rapidly since they have better visibility of the infrastructure changes. 

Managing system outages in a better way. By linking remediation actions to CIs, you don’t just diagnose service outages faster – you fix them faster, too. Often, the first time that IT operations knows about a business service outage is when end users complain – and that doesn’t make for a good experience. Proactively stopping business service outages before they start is key to improving service availability and reducing the run-rate workload for IT operations teams. Tackle this problem head-on by integrating an event management solution with your CMDB. Connecting the two simplifies resolution by enabling quicker diagnosis of outages and visibility into how issues are propagating across all business services. 

Creating true value savings and risk reduction with Software Asset Management (SAM): Asset management is usually considered a financial function, but by tapping the full power of your CMDB your SAM functions can become a substantial cost savings impact on your business bottom line. Think about it: your CMDB platform can be used to track physical assets, software assets, and consumables. What if you can have software asset data in the same place where you manage IT, enabling teams to track all the installed assets and their utilization in a single platform? With a service map in place, you can do just that. This connection is a powerful part of transformation, allowing you to understand total cost of ownership to run a service, and reducing risk by being proactive in upgrading the software that runs your services before it reaches end of life. Win, meet Win.

Reducing risk by responding to security incidents and vulnerabilities faster. A single source of truth — the CMDB — is also invaluable for security and risk management team. Mapping your services in the CMDB reduces the amount of noise by providing a clear line-of-sight to the services and applications that are affected, saving diagnosis time and reducing potential service interruptions. More importantly, service mapping to the CMDB allows for visibility into the information that is used by those applications – so you don’t just know where or what the problem is, but what is affected by it. 

Complying with regulations and requirements with ease. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the world of regulations, requirements and data management are getting more complex by the day. Practically every organization and industry today are subject to various regulatory requirements such as Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA), and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Add federal government regulations and certification programs to the mix and the environment gets even more intricate. Although these various regulations differ in their requirements, they all share one common goal: ensuring that sensitive data and systems are appropriately secured, and proper governance and accountability is established. By unifying information assets, data and applications, you can better understand the relationships between them and pivot to the ever-changing landscape of regulation and compliance. Mapping services to your CMDB is an essential tool to help ensure your organization meets their audit and compliance needs by being able to track compliance at the business level- in real time.

Hit the ground running with dummy-proof CMDB 
You already know the power of the CMDB in your IT infrastructure, are ready to lead change management with your stakeholders to rally around its value and see the possibilities of making it the heart of all you do. Now it’s time to execute on your initiatives and turn knowledge into action.

Dive deeper with CMDB for Dummies, a quick start guide for creating a configuration management plan, building a healthy configuration data management database, and aligning your plan to business use cases. 

Learn More:

CMDB for Dummies eBook

CMDB for Dummies iPaper

ServiceNow CMDB Webpage

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