Written by Veronica Parker, Senior Test Specialist

Configuration Management (CM) is a collection of processes and tools stored in a system or subsystem that promotes consistency, tracks changes and provides up to date information and documentation relating to an enterprise’s hardware and software. CM is a discipline applying technical and administrative controls to identify software packages installed, subsequent updates, locations, and network addresses of hardware devices etc.  You might be asking…why is a health company blogging on CM?  Well its simple, CM activities take place throughout the hardware and software life cycles.  To meet the changing demands of health information technology, CM plays an integral role in storing new requirements, changes and a timeline in which they took place.

CM begins at initial determination of mission need and continues until project close out or product retirement. There are specific terminologies related to CM. Here are few relevant terms:

  • Configuration: A collection of all baseline elements and a description of how they fit together (how hardware and software are interconnected).
  • Baseline: One or more software configuration items that have been formally reviewed and agreed up and served as a basis for further development.
  • Software Configuration Item: A collection of software elements treated as a unit for the purpose of Software CM (SCM).

Why Configuration Management?

CM is the core of effective hardware and software management.   Rapid change in the information technology sector is responsible for evolving of CM as a subject. Every day, new versions of software systems are created or improved upon to offer better functionality or to meet particular user requirement. So, it is essential for an enterprise to have a CM system to keep pace in the information technology environment as it not only to keep the system updated but also control the cost and effort involved in making changes to the system.

CM Activities

There are six basic activities to follow in order to achieve successful Configuration Management:

  1. CM Planning and Management:  involves identification of goals and requirements that may impact CM activities such as the availability of contractors/suppliers in nearby location, intellectual property rights, and stakeholder’s reporting needs. CM planning requires formulation of procedure or formula that implement CM activities calculate cost, defines roles and responsibilities, disaster recovery, providing role based training etc. CM plan provides a blueprint for smooth implementation of goals and objectives.
  2. Configuration Identification (CI): is a component of a system that is treated as a self-contained unit for the purpose of identification and change control. This entity satisfies an end use function. It includes the following:
    1. Selection of configuration items (requirements documents, software, models and plans)
    2. The determination of types of documentation needed for every CI.
    3. Issuing of CI codes, version numbers and other identifiers affixed to CIs configuration that include internal and external interfaces.
    4. The  release of CIs and their associated configuration documentation
    5. Setting up configuration items in the training devices.
  3. Configuration documentation: is the technical process that defines the performance, functional and physical attributes of a product.  Its purpose is to provide specific technical description of a system or its components at any point of time. Information needs to be kept current, structured for users’ needs and readily available for those who need to know.
  4. Change Control Process: Change control process is a procedural activity that requires quality and consistency as changes are made to a configuration object. A change request is submitted to configuration control authority, which is usually a change control board. The request then is evaluated for technical merit, potential side effect, overall impact on other configuration objects and systems of function and projected cost in terms of money, time and resource. An engineering order is then issued for each approved change request.
  5. Configuration Reporting Task: Configuration reporting task is also known as status accounting. It is nothing but administrative tracking and reporting of CIs in configuration management system. It provides information about each change to those personnel in an organization with a need to know.  The configuration status report is usually placed online database or on a website for software developers and custodians to read. They are also given to management and practitioners to keep them apprised of important changes to the project.
  6. Configuration Audit: is an independent review or examination to assess if a product or process is in compliance with specification, standards, contractual agreement or other criteria. A configuration audit has to address following questions:
    1. Have changes specified in the engineering control process been made? Have any additional modifications been incorporated?
    2. Has a formal review been conducted to assess technical correctness?
    3. Has the software process been followed and have software engineering standards been properly applied?
    4. Have SCM procedures for noting change, recording it, and reporting it been followed?

There are two type of configuration audit: Functional Configuration audit and Physical Configuration Audit. Both encompass hardware and software components. Physical configuration audit is usually preceded by functional configuration audit. Configuration audits report findings, document discrepancies and corrective actions to include estimated costs and completion dates.

Another important activity of CM is Release Management and Delivery.  This is the process of managing hardware and software releases from the development phase to its implementation, or when a product or system is decommissioned.   Although release management is relatively new it is a rapidly growing discipline and very essential to delivering a quality product on time and on target.  Some organization will have an assigned role of “Release Manager”.  The purpose of this role is to be a facilitator/liaison between the various business units and taking responsibility for the implementation.

Adopting CM is in itself a “best-practice”.  CM is designated to control the system development throughout the lifecycle and an important part of MicroHealth’s health information system approach. It is shared responsibility by most everyone in the organization. Best-practices include:

  1. Creating standards for hardware and software such as software version control/management and IP address management promotes consistency resulting in reduced unplanned downtime and defects.
  2. Review and maintenance of documentation is critical to ensure events and changes are up to date and accurate.
  3. Create and validate auditing standards is a mechanism used as a performance indicator.  Periodic audits allow the organization to see if issues are resolved; to review improvements and goals determining progress that was made and its value.

Use of CM and its best-practices will allow the lowering of support costs, improved products and services resulting in excellence in customer service delivery.