What Is Configuration Management, And Why Do I Need It?

A man comparing scale readouts to the iPad allowing changes to be made out in the field.

Jeff Miller, Director or Project Management | January 4, 2021

Configuration management is defined as the discipline of ensuring that all software and hardware assets which a company owns are known and tracked at all times. It also makes sure that any future changes to these assets are known and tracked. An easy way to think of configuration management is as an always up-to-date inventory of your technology assets – the single source of truth.

That’s a lot of words to describe a hugely important concept for your plant. What it basically boils down to is this: Configuration management is a method of recording and recalling the exact configuration of your technology hardware and software assets that ensures, if disaster struck, you could get your plant back up and running as quickly as possible.

What Can Configuration Management Look Like?

As an example, consider a process production system in your plant. It likely consists of multiple PLCs or DCS systems, one or more communication cards, multiple I/O racks, one or more network switches, likely some smart Ethernet IP MCCs, smart devices, and code that continuously runs and monitors the system. Each of these systems has a firmware revision, and all elements must remain at this revision for the entire system to work properly. If you burn out a communication card in your controller rack and replace it with a new one, you will need to know what the previous card’s firmware was to ensure compatibility. A good Configuration Management System will have all of this information recorded and easily found in the event you need it.

Implementing Configuration Management

There are two key parts to configuration management: 1) A place to record the initial inventory of your hardware and software assets, and, 2) a method to record changes, why changes were made, who made them, and when they were made. This can be done in lots of different ways, from an Excel spreadsheet to a database with an interface front-end and reporting.

What can you do if you don’t have this kind of inventory and don’t really know where to start? Many control systems integrators perform Install Base Audits where they come to your plant, inventory everything that you have, and help you build your current inventory, providing you with a tool for tracking current and future states. This audit can also help determine what hardware and software may no longer be in support, which is crucial – if it’s extremely hard to find spare parts or professional help in rebuilding the configuration, it negatively impacts how fast your plant can get back up and running.

For more information related to Configuration Management or for help with performing an Install Base Audit, please reach out to the Interstates Professional Services team by calling 712-722-1662 or emailing bdev@interstates.com.