The key to living without CMDB is process maturity level
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Yes you can do without CMDB, so long as you are aiming at not too high a maturity level, say 3. The trick is to remember that you don't adopt a process, you improve it. If we aspire to a moderate level of maturity, then yes we can do without a CMDB. Plenty of people do.
This was mentioned at a public discussion this week (thank-you Peter). He has given us the key consideration.
How come surveys of companies "doing" ITIL typically show Configuration Management "implemented" [more of that later] by 10 or 20 percent of them? What are the others doing? Living without CMDB of course. Oh sure they may have an asset register, a systems management tool auto-discovering stuff, a purchasing system, maybe even a service catalog. But they don't have a CMDB as defined by ITIL.
And for most of us mere mortals, that's OK. The trick is to remember that you don't adopt a process, you improve it.
Everyone does Incident Management. (Heck, everyone does configuration management). The question is how well they do it. This is usually measured by a CMM maturity level, from 1 to 5. if someone says they have no process, they are at level 1. Things still happen. People try to restore service. They just do it in an anarchic fashion.
ITIL is about continuous service improvement, and it does it by providing model processes to use in defining and documenting and measuring and managing and improving our own processes.
SO you don't implement Incident Management: you try to lift your maturity in Incident Management, from say 1 to 3.
If we aspire to a moderate level of maturity, then yes we can do without a CMDB. Plenty of people do.
On the other hand, if you are NASA or Boeing or TATA or EDS, ignore me. You want level 5 maturity and you'll need a CMDB to get there ... or rather you'll need to start working on a CMDB. I'm still not convinced you will ever get near the idealised model. I still think it is too hard and too expensive.
And man it is going to cost you trying....