Asset Management vs the CMDB – Any Difference?

It’s a commonly asked question, whether there is any difference between asset management and the CMDB, and not always by those new to IT service management and ITIL.

And, in fairness, at first glance, they do appear to be the same but you don’t need to dig too deeply to realize that they are, in fact, very different.

In this blog post, we explore asset management and the CMDB to discover what makes them different and why there might be so much confusion between the two.


To start with, let’s take a look at the ITIL definition of asset management: ‘a generic activity or process responsible for tracking and reporting the value and ownership of assets throughout their lifecycle’. 

Asset management is first and foremost concerned with the financial value of an organization’s assets from the moment they are acquired, right up until they have run their course and are disposed of.

The lifecycle of an asset

The lifecycle of an asset
Here is a basic view of the asset lifecycle to give you an idea of the various stages they go through. 
The CMDB, however, is not a process or activity, it is a database that stores information related to an organization’s configuration items (CIs).
The CMDB is an integral part of ITIL’s ‘Service Asset and Configuration Management’ (SACM) process but other processes use the information stored in the CMDB too, such as incident management, problem management, and change management.

When you look in the CMDB (if it’s well managed and maintained) you can find a record of all of an organization’s CIs including information related to them like their owner, history, type, version number, state, and their relationships with other CIs.

So, while asset management is a process responsible for controlling assets throughout their lifecycle, the CMDB is a tool used to store the data needed for service asset and configuration management along with other IT service management processes.


Before we go any further it’s important for us to understand the difference between a configuration item and an asset. 
A configuration item is something that can be configured (changed) somehow, think of a server on which you can enable protocols or modify a port. An asset is something that needs to be tracked financially by an organization but cannot be configured, think of a mouse, a PC cable, even your office building.

It is true that some configuration items can be assets; if the CI needs to be tracked financially too then its an asset.

The server in our example above is a configuration item because we can configure it but we also want to know its financial value which makes it an asset too.
To give another example, in an office where we used to work our printers were supported by another company so we had them listed as assets (because they cost us money). But we didn’t have them as CIs because any changes to the equipment were not made by our IT department, and any incidents that occurred were handled by the support company so configuration records were not necessary (as they were not controlled by our change management team).

Configuration items are dealt with under the configuration management process so perhaps a better question to ask is ‘what is the difference between asset management and configuration management?’


Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably but this is incorrect, asset management and configuration management, although they complement each other, are different. 
Asset management, as we have already discussed, tracks an asset throughout its lifecycle from bringing it on board to retiring it when its seen its final days. It is concerned with the financial attributes of assets and it helps IT managers to make better decisions and save money by getting the most out of every asset: showing how they’re used, supporting compliance requirements, and supporting financial management.
IT asset management (ITAM) involves IT assets and related non-IT assets (any asset that is not part of IT but is required for service delivery). 
Configuration management, while is shares some common features of asset management, encompasses more than an asset’s financial attributes and lifecycle.
The process supports all other service management processes and is concerned with service and component attributes and the relationships of these.
Configuration management looks to control configuration items by ensuring they go via the appropriate change management channels so only authorized configurations can be actioned. All of the data around an organization’s CIs is stored in the CMBD and use of this database is considered an IT best practice.
To explore this further we can take a look at the ITIL process ‘Service Asset and Configuration Management.’


ITIL states that ‘the purpose of service asset and configuration management is to: 
Identify, control, record, report, audit and verify service assets and configuration items

Account for, manage and protect the integrity of service assets and configuration items through the service lifecycle by ensuring that only authorized components are used and only authorized changes are made Account for, manage and protect the integrity of service assets and configuration items through the service lifecycle by ensuring that only authorized components are used and only authorized changes are made

Ensure the integrity of the assets and configurations required to control the services and IT infrastructure by establishing and maintaining an accurate and complete configuration management system.’

This process is all about an organization making sure that its service assets and configuration items are properly managed by ensuring they are recorded, auditable, and that any changes to them are strictly monitored and authorized by the right people (controlled).

Changes to configuration items can be risky and have the potential to cause incidents, problems or even major business outages. It is imperative, therefore, that they go through the proper control channels which is why CIs sit with the change management team.

SACM supports the entire service lifecycle and gives organizations a way to show evidence of the control they have across service assets and configurations.

To summarise then, asset management is a process that focuses on the financial value and ownership of an organization’s assets.
Service asset and configuration management is an ITIL process designed to control and monitor an organization’s service assets and CIs.

The CMDB houses the data that service management processes, in particular, configuration management, need in order to be successful. It’s a central hub that provides a transparent view of an organization’s CIs and gives accurate and reliable information on these when properly maintained.