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a dirty CMDB
Technical, Thought Leadership

Why a 'Dirty' CMDB is so Bad

By Per Skanne | September 06, 2016

Like many areas of IT operations, one of the cornerstones of successful Software Asset Management is having accurate asset data in a central repository. From a SAM perspective, that means discovering and identifying all devices across the target platforms and then accurately identifying the software installed and used on those devices (and, increasingly, the software not on those devices but still consumer by the primary user).

Typically, in Software Asset Management, we call that an Asset Repository.

We don’t tend to talk too much about Software Asset Management CMDBs, since a SAM program is unlikely to need quite the same data that might be contained in a mature Configuration Management DataBase. However, there are both overlaps in the data between a SAM Asset Repository and a CMDB, as well as similar risks when the data is either incomplete or inaccurate.  

Something we often refer to as having a ‘dirty CMDB’.



While a CMDB is most often associated with IT Service Management solution and ITIL requirements, the key to creating a solid and valuable CMDB is having it populated with current, complete and accurate information about the IT assets and users across the network. 

Funnily enough, the exact same requirements are placed on the SAM asset repository. And it’s harder to achieve than you might think? Why?

For many reasons, but here are a few:

  1. Most inventory solutions are not good at covering multiple platforms – meaning you either have holes in your IT inventory or have to use multiple discovery solutions, which will report assets in different ways.
  2. Software Recognition is often poor in most inventory solution – which populates the asset repository and/or CMDB with a lot of unusable noise that offers no value to ITSM or other IT functions.
  3. No understanding of how software is installed – whether an application is installed stand-alone or as part of a suite can have a dramatic effect on how it should be licensed.
  4. No usage tracking – knowing a software application has been deployed is one thing, but understanding, if it is actually being used, provides a lot more value and helps the decision-making process around initiatives such as license reclaimation.

Populating an asset repository or CMDB with dirty data creates more problems than it solves. It’s a common issue, with Forbes reporting that as many as 85% of CMDB initiatives fail. Other studies suggest that, at any given time, up to 40% of data stored in the CMDB is ‘bad’ (typically meaning out of date and/or inaccurate).


The concept of the CMDB is that it should be a single source of truth that is accessed by multiple systems and functions to power effective processes and decision-making across IT and business functions.

However, when CMDB data is bad or dirty, trust in the accuracy and value of the CMDB is quickly eroded, often leading to the failures described above. Unfortunately, once SAM or ITSM provides dirty data to another department or senior management, it is hard for the recipient to trust future data. Even if the data quality is improved, it will still be received with skepticism and an element of being untrustworthy.

The value of the data, the ITSM and SAM function to the business decreases. Inconsistency with CMDB data will result in a user’s unwillingness to use the data, or it will require manual effort and manipulation that will also lead to poor data.

Having unreliable data can end up costing the organization a lot more time and money than necessary. Organizations can up end up throwing money and resources at trying to improve the quality of the data, instead of trying to find the root cause.


As a rule of thumb, a common target we see for CMDB and Asset Repository accuracy is 97%. It is generally accepted that 100% accuracy is near-impossible at any one moment, but by having just a 3% margin of error, any inaccurate data will be identified and rectified within a reasonable timeframe and represents a much more realistic risk/reward balance for the organization.

A good place to start when looking to improve the quality and value of the data in the CMDB is to put in place best-of-breed technologies to populate the desired data. Using the example above, in the case of IT assets, this means implementing:

  1. An inventory solution or suite to discover all IT assets across the platforms to be managed – desktop and server, but also mobile and cloud, and not forgetting virtual devices and software. You might also want to include network devices such as printers and routers, maybe even IP telephones.
  2. A software recognition service to accurately identify all commercial software in use across key platforms, such as iOS, Windows, UNIX, Linux etc. The software recognition engine should be ‘clever’ enough to automatically group bundled software and suites where appropriate, as well as identifying upgrade and downgrade rights associated with particular licensing schemes.
  3. Full software usage tracking – it is a commonly-held view that the average desktop is home to around US $300 of unused software. Only by tracking the actual use of applications can you implement effective software reclamation (sometimes called reharvesting) initiatives.
  4. Full ‘normalization’ of data. Whether using one inventory solution or several, it is increasingly important that raw audit data is ‘cleansed and normalized’ before it is used to populate the CMDB or Asset Repository.  This is critical to avoiding dirty data and ensures that all software is reported in a consistent manner so that it can be managed and assigned more effectively.


If all of the requirements outlined above sound familiar, that’s because they are the same requirements that are fundamental to effective Software Asset Management. Solutions like the Snow SAM platform create and consume this clean multi-platform inventory information every day. But what’s more, they can also make that same high-quality inventory data available to third-party systems such as Service Desks and CMDBs.


The service desk relies heavily on reliable, accurate data. They are customer facing so need to be trusted to have all of the information required for users and associated devices. If they use inaccurate data to support end-users, then the following action they take may be a ‘rubbish’ action – rubbish in = rubbish out. Having reliable data within your CMDB, SAM and service management solutions will have a positive impact on your organization.

Thanks to reliable data, the service management function is able to provide a sophisticated and intelligent service to end-users, improving a user’s experience and ensuring any issues or tickets they have are resolved in an effective and timely manner.


Having a proactive relationship between your service management solution and your SAM tool puts you in prime position to add real value to the organization. By using SAM ready data to populate your CMDB reduces the chances of ‘dirty’ data and also emphasizes the value of the CMDB as a data source. Consistent, reliable data moving forward will help banish the memory of possible previous inconsistencies and prove to other areas of the business that SAM data is king!

Snow Software recently hosted a webinar with Forrester Research entitled 'How SAM Drives ITSM'. We discuss the best practices that you need to follow in order to integrate your Software Asset Management and ITSM solutions.


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