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CMSG gets ITIL

A belated postcard from the BCS CMSG Conference

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Editor's blog The British Computer Society Configuration Management special interest group (the BCS CMSG) has rather an oxymoronic name perhaps - who's interested in CM? Well, I am. I was interested enough to go to its bi-annual conference last week, and so, probably, is anyone actually involved in doing CM.

CM can be defined as: "The process of identifying and defining the Configuration Items in a system, recording and reporting the status of Configuration Items and Requests For Change, and verifying the completeness and correctness of Configuration Items" (from this glossary). It can be applied to source code, of course, but its scope is considerably wider than that.

CM is the foundation of good IT governance - and if programmers aren't seen as supporting that, they'll lose, first, the respect of the business and, second, the nice salaries the business pays them. There are plenty of outsourcing companies that'll bring in as many practically-experienced and fully qualified process specialists as any business could dream of – and, possibly unfairly, the internal IT group often doesn't have a high reputation with the business to counter this with.

The BCS CMSG conference currently alternates with a technology showcase, although it includes a small exhibition, showcasing vendor's wares. It was sponsored this time by Serena, MKS, Aldon, Marval, Perforce, Square Mile, Codicesoftware, Software Acumen, Telelogic, Unicom, TechExcel and electric cloud. Which is a good working list of both the serious established CM players and some interesting newcomers – although IBM and Microsoft, for example, were conspicuous by their absence from the list. However, Kevin Lee of the IBM Software Group presented on the "Politics, Patterns and Process of implementing distributed software CM", so IBM was participating.

If there was a theme to this conference it was probably ITIL, which has been astonishingly successful – not only as an internationally-accepted guide to good practice for IT operations but also as the basis for ISO 20000 and an advert for UK, plc generally. For developers, ITIL is probably best viewed as a requirements spec for building good operations manageability into IT systems

It's strange that a government that can sponsor a "good practice" standard so effectively should be involved in so many IT disasters. Perhaps the lesson is that good practice is sometimes much harder to implement systematically than it is to formulate.

Anyway, the conference gave us a chance to meet and talk with both the woman behind the current ITIL v3 Refresh, Sharon Taylor, ITIL's chief architect; and also the woman behind the revised Service Transition book in the revised ITIL library, Shirley Lacy (Shirley is on the committee of the CMSG). They both helped to increase attendees' confidence in the aims of the Refresh, which promotes a "whole lifecycle" view of the operational delivery of automated services and its quality.

There were some controversial talks too. Marc Girod of Iona suggested that Rational and IBM had irretrievably compromised the change granularity in Atria's original ClearCase vision when turning it into part of its ALM – and that no effective replacement is available.

And Ryan Lloyd of MKS suggested that release/build management was the major missing piece in many ALM stories. I remember thinking, when IBM took over BuildForge and was very enthusiastic about at last adding build management (at least) to its ALM toolset, that all too often the ALM a vendor talks about is limited to what its tools can handle effectively at the time.

There was plenty of discussion about the future of CM. One, ironic, suggestion was that if the CMSG renamed itself to the CMDB-SG, it'd attract more attention, as CMDB Configuration Management Database) is sexy just now. It's a fair point – if you are in the sort of organisation that doesn't understand why Configuration Management is more than Version Control and Change Management, then buying a CMDB seems just like buying a ticked ITIL compliance box on the cheap. Be warned, however - getting your data into a CMDB once you've installed it, and getting any actual measurable benefit out of it, may be harder than you think.

Less ironically, moving CM out of the IT silo and treating it as a business service was discussed – and Robert Cowham of Vaccaperna Systems (the CMSG chair), was at least contemplating hosted CM offerings to reduce the barrier to entry. There seemed little resistance in the conference to the idea that CM is about more than just source code and the IT group.

In a mature organisation, CM is about identifying and managing everything needed to deliver an automated business service – source code is part of this, but phones, desks, and even toilets might be vital to service delivery too. And the business isn't impressed if it is told, say, that its ecommerce facility is going to be unavailable for the day, "but it doesn't matter, because all the databases are fully available, it's just the aircon that's down".

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