Steven Little – How Configuration Management maximises the benefits of an organisation’s assets

Increasing digitisation is bringing more flexibility and configuration requirements to more and more systems, assets, and products. To avoid detrimentally inconsistent approaches, organisations will need to rely on policies, procedures, and systems that manage and control this configurability.

Steven Little – Director, Asset Management at Tetra Tech – has supported the Institute of Asset Management in co-writing one of the Subject Specific Guidelines (SSGs) designed to help asset management practitioners achieve excellence within configuration management.

Why is configuration management integral to asset management?

The important thing about assets is making sure they can be modified in behaviour to adapt to specific circumstances. Having configurable systems, assets, and products creates a lot of value through greater flexibility in their usage. If an asset is used incorrectly, problems will arise, so knowing the asset’s configuration in both its current and previous state – as well as what configuration is required – makes a big difference.

Throughout history, there are many examples where applying configuration management would have made a huge difference in avoiding negative outcomes. Knowing how to identify issues and where they might arise is vital to ensuring those problems don’t later become catastrophic.

What is the key to good configuration management?

The Atomic Energy Agency has a simple approach to understanding basic asset documentation: it uses three simple lists documenting for every system, asset, or product 1) what is supposed to be there to perform the required function, 2) what you have documented as being there, and 3) what is actually there. If those three are not aligned, you have a problem.

It sounds simple but these three aspects are misaligned for many organisations. Emergency changes, untrained staff, forgetting to complete work orders, not understanding interoperability, dependability and consequential issues are all factors that can cause misalignment. There are many reasons that documentation and/or configuration records become stale and do not reflect actual systems/assets/products that are deployed.

This gets more complicated when the same system/asset/product can perform multiple functions or can change at which level of input its actions are triggered. In many cases, you can’t tell from looking at the asset how it is configured.

What is the future of configuration management?

The central part of the Configuration Management concept is that some assets can be configured in multiple ways and these configurations can, and likely will, change over time. These create operational, maintenance, planning and supply chain challenges to name a few.

Effective Configuration Management manages these challenges to instil organisations with confidence in their assets/systems/products fulfilling the functions they desire from them when needed.

As we bring online more assets that tap into the Internet of Things and require speedy alterations to configurability, configuration management will become an especially important and timely management tool for these configurability demands and changes.

Can you tell us about configuration management document you wrote?

The Configuration Management document (No 14) forms part of the IAM’s Subject Specific Guidelines (SSGs), a series of publications designed to cultivate asset management knowledge. They cover 39 subjects in asset management and are based on the asset management knowledge structure or ‘matrix’ from the Asset Management Landscape.

The SSGs are a core element within the IAM asset management knowledge base. Through peer review and IAM Expert Panel assessment, they fully align with the IAM’s values centred on supporting excellence through successful asset management.

Each SSG document covers anywhere from one to a group of topics from the 39 Subjects, with broader subjects meriting their own SSG, and closely related subjects being grouped together in a separate SSG.

(Read more about the SSGs here. No 14 Configuration Management is available at the IAM shop).

How does this document aid practitioners in the industry?

The SSG provides guidance for asset-rich organisations and practitioners on what configuration management is, why it’s needed, and how to apply it. The guideline is about maintaining the integrity and flexibility of that asset, system or product so it performs whatever task or function you want, whenever you want, throughout its lifecycle.

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