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What is the difference between an Asset and a Configuration Item (CI)?

RightStar TeamJuly 26, 2013

 When delivering Configuration Management engagements,  customers often notice that some items appear in both their CMDB and in their Asset Management software.  This leads to the inevitable  question, “What is the  difference between an Asset and a Configuration Item (CI)?”

I begin by explaining to them that while both systems may be referencing the same “object”, they are for completely different purposes.  It helps to discuss the goals of inventory management, asset management,  and configuration management to help compare and contrast the three disciplines.

Inventory  Management (“Stuff”)


Inventory management is primarily about specifying the size and placement of stocked goods. Inventory management is required at different locations within a  facility or within multiple locations of a supply network to protect the regular and planned course of production against the random disturbance of running out of materials or goods.  -Wikipedia


The scope (goal) of inventory management also concerns the fine lines between replenishment lead time, carrying costs of inventory, asset management, inventory forecasting, inventory valuation, inventory visibility, future inventory price forecasting, physical inventory, available physical space for inventory, quality management, replenishment, returns and defective
goods and demand forecasting.  -Wikipedia


Inventory Management is used to keep up with what stuff you have, quantities of stuff on hand, where it is located, and how it should be replenished. 

Asset Management (“Stuff + Financial + Lifecycle”)


Asset Management, broadly defined, refers to any system that monitors and maintains things of value to an entity or group.  It may apply to both tangible assets such as buildings and to intangible concepts such as intellectual property and
goodwill.  –Wikipedia


The goal of Asset Management is to effectively document an asset throughout its usable life.  Asset management is a systematic process of planning, acquiring, deploying, managing, and disposing of assets in a cost-effective way.


Asset Management focuses more on the lifecycle and financial aspects of an item.  Asset Management systems are not usually very useful when trying to do an impact analysis because they lack data related to how an asset supports the delivery of a service.

Configuration Management (“CMDB as a decision engine. Key=Relationships”)


Configuration Management

Configuration Management (ITILv3):    [Service Transition] The Process responsible for maintaining information about Configuration Items required to deliver an IT Service, including their Relationships. This information is managed throughout the Lifecycle of the CI. Configuration Management is part of an overall Service Asset and Configuration Management Process. –KnowledgeTransfer.Net

Configuration Management (ITILv2):    The process of planning for, identifying, controlling, and verifying the Configurations Items (CIs) within a service, recording their status, and, in support of Change Management, assessing the potential IT impact of changing those items.  -KnowledgeTransfer.Net


Configuration Management Database (CMDB) (ITILv3):    A
the database used to store Configuration Records throughout their Lifecycle. The Configuration Management System maintains one or more CMDBs, and each CMDB stores Attributes of CIs and Relationships with other CIs.  –KnowledgeTransfer.Net

Configuration Management Database (ITILv2):    A database
(CMDB) that contains details about the attributes and history of each Configuration Item (CI) and details of the important relationships between CIs. The information held may be in a variety of formats, textual, diagrammatic, photographic, etc.; effectively a data map of the physical reality of IT Infrastructure. –KnowledgeTransfer.Net


The goals of configuration management are to:

  • Support many of the ITIL processes by providing accurate configuration information to assist the decision-making process
    • Assess the impact of proposed changes
    • Assess the impact and cause of incidents and problemservices
    • Plan and design new or changed services
  • Minimize the number of quality and compliance issues caused by incorrect or inaccurate configuration of services and assets
  • Define and control the components of services and infrastructure and maintain accurate configuration information on the historical, planned and current state of the services infrastructure

The key activities for this process are:  -itillibrary.com

  • Plan for Configuration Management databases and activities
  • Identify Configuration Items
  • Control Configuration Item information
  • Perform status accounting
  • Perform verification and audit of Configuration Management
  • Provide management information about the Configuration
    Management quality and operations


The Configuration Management process, enabled by the Configuration Management Database (CMDB) is, more than anything else, a decision engine.  If it is populated with the right information and if that information is judiciously maintained, it will allow an organization to quickly asses the impact of any change, plan, and design services, and ultimately allow the organization to have a high degree of confidence in and control over their environment.  The primary difference between asset management and configuration management is the introduction of the relationship concept.


Although the CMDB CAN holds information that allows it to manage asset lifecycle, etc., its primary purpose is to manage the relationship between services and the components necessary to deliver those services.

For example, if the business has a need for unified communications, one element of this may be the email service that IT provides.  This email service requires many components or CIs in order to function correctly.  These CIs may be tangible things like servers, software, infrastructure, network, etc.  They may also be intangible things like key personnel, SLAs, support contracts, or other services.

Only a system like the CMDB, enabled by the relationship record, can provide accurate impact analysis, cost rollups, big-picture understanding, etc.  Neither Inventory Management nor Asset Management can provide the level of visibility into how a service is actually delivered that can be found in the CMDB.

Some Key Concepts

An “Asset” is something that has intrinsic value to a person or an enterprise.

A “Configuration Item” is an entity or thing that you wish to track that is required for the delivery of a service.

An Asset is often a Configuration Item but Configuration Items are not necessarily Assets.

Asset:  Server CI:  Server
  • Make
  • Model
  • CPU
  • RAM
  • OS
  • Etc.
  • Technical
    • Technical attributes that are similar
      to Asset attributes
  • Ownership
    • Responsible Person
    • Purchase Date
    • Warranty Info
    • Location
  • Relationship
    • Details about how this CI contributes
      to the delivery of a service which ultimately brings value to the