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4 Configuration Knowledge Hurdles and How to Fight Them


4 Configuration Knowledge Hurdles and How to Fight Them

Today's IT infrastructures, systems and applications—as well as the business operations they support — are more complex than ever. The fallout from this growing complexity can be damaging to an enterprise: more system downtime, higher costs, inferior customer service. The amount of configuration information available in the entire IT environment of the enterprise is staggering. The continued stability of IT infrastructure requires managing the ever growing collection of configuration information and content.

Admitting the importance of effective knowledge management for today's IT organizations contributed to the addition of Knowledge Management as a new process in ITIL V3. Indeed, many aspects of Knowledge Management were covered by various processes in ITIL V2 - for example, Problem Management was (and in ITIL V3 still is) responsible for managing the Known Error Database.  ITIL V3, however, defines Knowledge Management as the one central process responsible for providing knowledge to all other IT Service Management processes.

The Process Objective according to ITIL V3 is: To gather, analyze, store and share knowledge and information within an organization. The primary purpose of Knowledge Management is to improve efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.

Here we highlight 4 of the major challenges for IT professionals in managing configuration knowledge.

Hurdle #1 Lack of Knowledge – Missing Granular Configuration Information

IT environments are complex. A typical environment includes thousands of different configuration parameters. For example, an IBM WebSphere Application Server holds over 16,000 configuration parameters alone. Most of the systems today cover only a fraction of the total configuration knowledge required for effective configuration management the of the entire IT environment.  CMDB for example, focuses on high level information and doesn't go (or it's not practical) into granular configuration information.  Other tools focus only on  a specific technology, ignoring the full scope of the IT environment.  The result: the IT organization misses a major part of the configuration information requires for effectively managing complex business systems.

Hurdle #2 Knowledge Exists but is Not Accessible

Tens (and sometimes, hundreds) of people are involved with managing numerous technologies, making information scattered across teams and different geographical locations. And  since knowledge is dispersed across various domain experts over the organization, the IT organization misses the full pool of information and fails to leverage the accumulated knowledge that exists.  This vulnerability is especially apparent when incident occurs.  It's literally a race against time to resolve the incident before it spirals out of control, making "Time is of the essence" more real than ever. At the center of the incident investigation effort is reviewing and analyzing available information, requiring information to be quickly accessible. The incident may be captured, monitored and the results reported, but the core activity is remains having the technical specialist "nose around" the system trying to "figure out" what is wrong either based on previous experience and personal expertise.  Being able to identify those critical configuration differences that could trigger an incident quickly and easily empowers incident teams to focus their efforts on a small group of changes, rather than branching out in many different directions and wasting valuable time, on trial and error approaches.

Hurdle #3 Nurturing Gathered Knowledge

The next challenge is identifying from all this information, what is the critical data that can impact the environment. This is literally searching for the proverbial needle in an IT haystack.  If not made actionable, this abundance of data is just noise for IT Teams.  Due to this complexity, IT departments are not prepared to track configuration information and predict outcomes for fast-changing business requirements. That's because the more complex the technology environment, the more likely an organization is stuck dealing with poor-quality data. According to Gartner analyst Kathy Harris, "When you make changes in a complex environment, it's very [difficult] to test the full extent and quality of the change. You're more likely to interject errors into what you're doing."

This growing body of knowledge contains over hundreds of thousands of unique granular configuration parameters spanning various technologies. As the configuration knowledge grows, it's important to incorporate the new configuration knowledge and experience into the organizational configuration knowledgebase and customize it with organizational best practices and lessons learned.

Hurdle #4 Getting the Knowledge to the Right Person

Even when the initial hurdles are overcome, and you gather and nurture configuration knowledge, it is only useful if the right person sees it. To get people to participate in the knowledge management effort, you have to take the knowledge collection and disseminate it to the team. In other words, you have to make it as easy for them to participate as possible. For instance in dealing with incident management, Tier I personnel would want to use specific information to identify change management areas that could potentially trigger an incident without diving into the change details. Ideally, they would want to able to hand off relevant detailed information to corresponding Tier II and Tier III specialists that can use it to decide if the incident is triggered by the environment. When necessary, it's vital to route the right information to the right person as quickly as possible.

Overcoming the Knowledge Configuration Hurdles

Evolven Change Monitoring solution, ships with an extensive, and growing knowledge base containing over 300,000 unique configuration parameters (and growing) spanning a wide collection of technologies. This knowledge grows fast as new parameters are added on a monthly basis thanks to the continuous efforts of a network of domain experts, and to partnerships with key infrastructure vendors. This knowledge base can easily be customized by various stakeholders allowing the organization to nurture and leverage knowledge spread among various stakeholders. Sharing knowledge among various stakeholders and domain specialists is smooth, helping to tap into existing organizational knowledge, improving efficiency in maintaining stability.

See how its done in this demo video of the Evolven Impact Knowledge Base in action.

About the Author
Martin Perlin