By Daniel M. Horton, CIO, Sallyport Global
Configuration management refers to the process of addressing changes to a system, in a systematic way, to maintain its integrity. Left unchecked, configuration items progress towards a state of disarray. Look at your configuration management like the upkeep of your lawn. There are several items that need to be configured and tracked on a different timetable. Whether it’s cutting the grass, trimming the bushes, edging, raking, seeding, etc. Some items are on a more frequent schedule, while others not as much, but any of them can become overgrown and burdensome if not groomed and monitored properly. This is when you find yourself in a mess. Changes to an environment are inevitable, so it is imperative that you have some process, tools, and personnel in place to support it. It will always be more difficult to clean up a mess than to avoid one.
There are many reasons that configuration management is a critical practice, mainly because it puts you in a position that increases your overall success and the oversight of your systems. When done right, configuration management will increase productivity, enhance system reliability, and provide a better quality of service. All of this contributes to stability and an overall reduction in unnecessary costs. Make sure you have a proper configuration management plan in place. You can spend the time upfront to do it now, or you will spend many times over fumbling around to correct problems or missteps along the way.
Putting a comprehensive configuration management practice in place does not need to be complex. In fact, the right process should streamline activities, and with the right tools and personnel in place, simplified further. Old broken processes slow down progress and are a frustration point to employees.
This will become the excuse for limited action, and the last thing you want is for employees to accept, “that’s just the way it is” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. If this speaks to you, address it now. Do not put the cart in front of the horse though. Be sure you have a solid process in place before moving onto selection of tools, and you must be sure your process is one that fits your company. This process should be reviewed on a regular cycle as well. As your company evolves, so should its processes.
There are many reasons that configuration management is a critical practice, mainly because it puts you in a position that increases your overall success and the oversight of your systems
One of our responsibilities in IT is to compliment solid processes with the proper tools. This in turn, creates a smooth functioning flow along with increased efficiencies. There are many brilliant products on the market that optimize configuration management. Before meeting with solution providers, review your existing process documentation to be sure it is as efficient as it can be. This documentation will come in handy when going through the selection process to identify the right configuration management solution.
When selecting any technology solution, there are always three overarching general requirements that I look for: security, accessibility, and ease of use. Implementing a secure platform should always be at the top of everyone’s list. This provides the protection, controls, and auditing that is always vital. All solutions should be highly accessibility to support a remote workplace including a web and mobile interface. I would be surprised to not find this capability nowadays. The easier a product is to use and navigate, the quicker it is adopted by the end-users. Do not put a solution in place that requires a two-week training to comprehend or no one is going to want to use it.
Regarding configuration management solutions, some additional consideration points should include: automation, customized work and approval flows, dashboard with reporting and metrics, simplified tracking and auditing. There will be others that are important to your company so create a scorecard that can be used as you meet with each vendor to be sure all your boxes are checked.
The team is essential to ensuring your configuration management is a success. There are multiple roles and responsibilities involved, and each member must understand and appreciate their part in the process. When someone sees and understands why they are doing what they are doing, they become more involved, and take initiative to offer ways to improve and be more efficient. If you want your configuration management to be the best it can be, the person you put in charge of it should live and breathe the process with passion. You know you have the right person, when all they do is focus on enabling, simplifying, and enhancing the process, and talking about it all the time. It takes a special person, but there are some out there.
In IT, we are blessed that we get to interact and show value to all areas of the business. Configuration Management solutions are ever evolving so keep your eyes open for features that you need to be using: automation, tracking, dashboards, accessibility with web and mobile interfaces. Always improve and be sure you are partnered with a solution provider that holds that same mentality.