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Difference between Assets and Configuration Items – Post 1 of 2

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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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Abhinav Kaiser
Abhinav Kaiser is an author and a management consultant. He has authored Reinventing ITIL in the Age of DevOps, Become ITIL Foundation Certified in 7 Days and Workshop in a Box: Communication for IT Professionals. He works as an agile/devops coach in one of the top consulting firms. He advises businesses, organizations and enterprises in the areas of DevOps, IT service management and agile project management frameworks.

3 thoughts on “Difference between Assets and Configuration Items – Post 1 of 2

  1. Wrong.
    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.

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