Evaluating and Selecting CM Tools - A Perspective

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Summary:
By documenting your CM processes, you are able to form a "CM standard" in order to make CM an easier task. Learn how automated tools, and up to date documentation and requirements are key factors in the success of any project.

Why Automated tools? Automated tools are essential for effective and efficient configuration management. Tools can automate many aspects of the change management process and deliver a real time platform for managing baseline information.  Tools can also provide reports and metrics that are necessary for continuous improvement efforts. Many tools also provide document control and other essential functionality.

CM Tools Do Not Do CM
Most organizations hope that by purchasing configuration management (CM) automated tools they will realize a significant improvement in CM effectiveness and efficiency. Some organizations actually believe that CM tools “do CM.” This is wrong. The truth is, the “right” CM tool can be invaluable in making CM work better, but they do not “do” CM.

CM Process First
CM tools can enhance many of the CM activities such as change management, structure and linkages, baseline management, document control, access to information, etc., but they do not assure the CM processes and information being automated are any good. If your CM processes are not what they should be then no CM tool is going to save the day.  In the absence of effective, and efficient, CM processes a CM Tool may never live up to its claimed benefits. In some instances it could even make matters worse. This being said, companies need to ask themselves if purchasing a tool should be the first step in CM process improvement.

Examples of Poor CM processes
Your requirements and documentation are never up to date or they don’t exist. Your baselines are incomplete or improperly structured. Information you need to create accurate baselines is missing. The workflow associated with the change process is inefficient. Your change forms are inadequate. Change implementation tasks are not identified and managed. The wrong people are making business decisions. Metrics of value are poor or nonexistent. Your change process still takes too long, so personnel have devised ways to get around the system... and much more. Automating the above is not going to give you better CM. The first consideration would be to fix and enhance the CM process, then pursue CM Tools.

Chaos Enhancement Tools

Many excellent automated CM tools become Chaos Enhancement Tools through no fault of their own. For example, because of organizational CM process inefficiencies the only redeeming quality of the automated tool may be to enable the organization to make bad decisions, or finding the wrong information, quicker. Ironically, the organization often blames the tool vendor when CM does not work like it should. They should be looking inward for process deficiencies.

Do the Math Great CM tools + poor CM processes = Failure Great CM processes + poor/wrong tools = Failure Great CM processes + Great CM tools = Success

CM tools will  “work” as they should, and live up to expectations, only when effective and efficient CM processes are in place. Sub-optimized CM processes are not going to improve simply by automating them. The vendors will do their best to give you what you ask for, but if you don’t know what to ask for, you may not find or get what you need.

Many potential CM tool purchasers could benefit from learning more about best CM practices.  So would many tool vendors. The buyers and sellers would then be in a more informed, and comfortable position, relative to the CM Process/Tool decision.

The relationship between the CM tool vendor and their customers will strengthen as the CM Tool system interfaces smoothly within the CM process. This relationship will carry into the “post-sale” phase, when future enhancements will bring more satisfaction to the customer, and ultimately, more business/revenue to

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