Difference between Assets and Configuration Items – Post 1 of 2

I often find myself talking to customers, peers, and suppliers who use the terms assets and configuration items interchangeably. They say that ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to management terminologies, it is better to understand the differences between terminologies than to look over it.

In this article, I am going to differentiate the two terms – assets and configuration items. Knowing the difference between the two will help you a long way if you are any way connected to the world of IT services.

What are Assets?

Assets are referred to as service assets in the ITIL V3 2011 publications. An asset contributes in delivering a service. It can be either a tangible or intangible. Examples include servers, laptops, and software. Assets are stored in an asset database (ADB).

What are Configuration Items?

A configuration item is an asset in principle. It can be tangible or intangible. It requires being managed actively throughout its lifecycle, as configuration items have a direct bearing on the delivery of an IT service. Configuration items are stored in a configuration management database (CMDB).

It is important to note that all configuration items are assets. And all assets are not configuration items.

Staying on the Topic: Should CMDB and ADB be Merged?

What Exactly is the Difference between Assets and Configuration Items?

The definitions that I read out earlier are similar. The differences are subtle.

The lifecycle of an asset begins when it is procured or ordered and ends when it is disposed of. Let’s take the example of a server. It contributes towards delivering a service. Its lifecycle starts when it is procured and ends when it is disposed of. The server is an asset.

A configuration item’s lifecycle begins when it is put into the production, and the lifecycle ends with the decommissioning of it. Picking up the same server as an example. When it is put into production – agnostic of the environment it is placed in, it becomes a configuration item. It ceases to be a configuration item when it is decommissioned. The server in this example is a configuration item.

Comparing the two lifecycles of a server, we can deduce that within the superset of an asset, the configuration item exists. This proves that – all configuration items are assets.

When is an Asset not a Configuration Item

Not all assets are configuration items. There are certain assets that contribute to services – say in an indirect manner, and even if this asset was to be absent, then the service continues to exist.

Take the example of a desktop. This desktop is used by IT staff to do their respective activities. If this desktop was to go down, it has no bearing on the continuation of a service. It’s not like a server which directly impacts a service. A server going down might bring down the service.

The desktop therefore, does not require to be managed like a configuration item – with eagle eyes. Yet, it still remains an asset. So, we can say that all assets are not configuration items.

In the Concluding Part

In the follow-up post, I will explain what exactly I mean by managing a configuration item. To gain complete control and to remove ambiguity in the Service Asset and Configuration management, it is paramount to understand the subtle difference between an asset and a configuration item.

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Wings2i September 4, 2017 at 6:58 PM

Insightful read on the why& what of service assets and configuration management…

Difference between Assets and Configuration Items – Post 2 of 2 – Abhinav PMP December 10, 2018 at 9:35 PM

[…] the first post in this series, I gave the basic differences between assets and configuration items. In this concluding piece, I will provide the differences that exist when there is a need to govern […]

Vasile January 10, 2019 at 2:39 AM

According to new ISO 20000-1:2018 / 3.2 Terms specific to service management/ 3.2.1 asset
Note 4 to entry: An asset can also be a configuration item. Some configuration items are not assets.

Dan September 7, 2019 at 12:39 AM

How is that wrong? You wrote, “An asset can also be a configuration item. Some configuration items are not assets.” The author wrote, “It is important to note that all configuration items are assets. And all assets are not configuration items.” Sounds the same to me.

I do disagree with the author concerning desktops and his statement that they have no bearing on delivery of a service. If my sales agent’s desktop is broken, they can not perform their business functions. It is an important endpoint of service delivery and in fact you will see the desktop often represented on architectural diagrams of system/service delivery.

VenkateswaraRao December 19, 2019 at 1:16 PM

Hi Abhinav Sir,

Thank you so much for knowledge sharing. It helped me.

Many thanks again

Know Your ITIL Practice: Architecture Management [UNABRIDGED] - Abhinav PMP January 10, 2022 at 11:00 PM

[…] the elements or configuration items is an inherent feature of CMDB and it remains unchanged […]


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