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Torched £30 server switch costs phone firm millions in lost sales

Where is configuration management when you need it?

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At the BCS CMSG conference in London earlier this year, Unisys CM manager Michel Delran spoke about how to design and implement a successful configuration management process and how a configuration management database can save you millions.

He began with the real-life cautionary tale of a phone company which lost millions as a result of paying too little attention to configuration management.

Just before Christmas one year there was a fire in one of the phone company’s smaller data centres. Initially no one thought it important but this small fire resulted in an £8m loss of sales as the data centre contained the one server that was responsible for processing company’s Chip and PIN information on credit card purchases across Europe.

And it wasn’t even the server that failed, Delran said, just a £30 switch on the server that burnt out as a result of the fire.

Delran, who is responsible at Unisys for implementing software asset and configuration management projects for outsourced customers across Europe, says that one of his biggest challenges is to sell the importance of configuration management internally in organisations.

“People put up objections. They say it’s too costly, requires too much manual effort, it’s not real time, that they already have asset management. No one cares – until there’s a catastrophe.”

He argues that the role of the configuration management team is misunderstood and this leads to an abdication of responsibility by other people in an organisation.

He had some tips for selling configuration management within an organisation. Identifying a champion is the best place to start, he said, and he counselled: “The configuration management champion may not be an internal resource, and a contractor is often a star. Everyone believes an external resource.”

CM specialists also need to build a strong business case that incorporates some quick wins, and this needs to include a communications plan. “Make sure the roadmap contains regular wins,” Delran said, “don’t try to do everything at once, maintain the buzz.”

As ever, clear communication is the key. Delran advises a review of major incidents to identify a prototype and then build a simple model: “Use language everyone can understand, work with service level management so that services are represented in the CMDB (configuration management database),” he said.

It’s also important to establish strong relationship with enterprise architects, so that the CMDB becomes part of the release of new applications.

In short, said Delran, “the road to saving millions is the support of senior management, a configuration management champion, a simple model and a strong business case with quick wins and a good communications plan.” ®

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