Why a CMDB Cannot Power Your Digital Transformation

Aug 21, 2019
Written by
Razvan Mitache
Razvan Mitache

Why a CMDB Cannot Power Your Digital Transformation

“Do I need an EA tool to deliver digital transformation, or can I just rely on a CMDB?”. Or, in the same vein “What is the difference between an EA tool and a CMDB?”. And “Why buy an EA tool if I have a CMDB?”.

These are some of the questions we’ve recently come across, which are illustrative of the issue of ‘CMDB vs EA tool’. So we thought we’d share a few thoughts on the topic. As it’s probably apparent, there is a premise of equivalence between the two types of software, but that is a misguided notion as you’ll see in a moment. In fact, an enterprise architecture tool and a CMDB are two different things, with distinct purposes, and therefore should not be asked to perform each other’s job. Here is what we mean.

What is a CMDB?

Simply put, a configuration management database is a database of IT installations. Within a CMDB, an organization stores data about its IT assets, as well as the relationships between them. In other words, it’s an archive – think of it as static.

What is an EA tool?

An enterprise architecture management suite, on the other hand, is a platform that offers a wide range of capabilities in support of business and IT transformation, including turning CMDB data feeds into various business-friendly visualisations to foster fact-based decision making. Its core focus is to link IT strategy to business strategy and enable a roadmap for change, which means it’s not just fixated on the ‘current state’, the way a CMDB is. An EA tool is not a warehouse, but a platform that helps to plan, track and manage complex business change.

In that sense, it’s an active piece of software, used to describe and examine the DNA of your organization in order to identify useful insights and information. Using such a platform offers the ability to present various viewpoints of the architecture including capability models, application landscapes, integration views, process models, roadmaps, matrices, dashboards as well as other visualisations of the architecture estate.

Why a CMDB Cannot Power Digital Transformation

A mature enterprise architecture management suite will be capable of handling all aspects of the enterprise, not just the IT stack. This means mapping the enterprise end-to-end, from the top-most strategic level down to operations and data flows, something that is not the purpose of a CMDB. To make this crystal clear, here are 4 reasons why a CMDB cannot act as a digital transformation tool.

1. Lack of analysis capabilities

A CMDB stores data. It doesn’t support ‘investigating’ it via well thought out analyses. The only way a CMDB enters the transformation picture is by acting as a source of data for an EA platform, which can then process the data into appropriate, i.e. persona-specific, deliverables. An enterprise architecture management suite is more complex since it brings together more capabilities – collaboration, modeling, analysis, presentation, and interoperability among others.

2. Narrow scope

CMDBs are purely IT-focused, and as such they leave out a huge part of the enterprise. How are you going to successfully carry out important business change if you’re going to ignore the strategy side of things? Your business capabilities and processes, and how they interact with the application landscape? Or the people that make it all happen? The truth is you cannot ignore these things. IT is but a part of the organizational big picture, and in order to ensure it delivers on its promise, it needs to be properly integrated with the rest of the enterprise. That’s where enterprise architecture comes in, and that’s why you need a dedicated tool.

3. Lack of enterprise modeling

The same way you can’t have a trial without evidence, you can’t manage a transformation program without actual content. Having a hands-on approach when it comes to planning change is why modeling is such a significant activity during any organizational change endeavor. Modeling builds an understanding of the problem(s) and highlights paths towards a solution. You won’t get this with a CMDB.

In fact, this is even more noteworthy when you consider there are products in the marketplace that bill themselves as ‘EA tools’, but are actually just limited portfolio management tools. They enable you to create some dashboards and graphs given the right input but feature none of the breadth of a true EA tool, with a key omission being the lack of modeling. Therefore, if you and your team should be seeking to procure an enterprise architecture platform, be sure to keep an eye out for this.

4. No open standards support

EA is an established business change discipline (we made the case for it before so go ahead and see for yourself if you need convincing). This means that any organization seeking to leverage it during their own transformation will benefit from a vast repository of practices and frameworks that will guide and support their efforts. A good architecture platform will increase your organization’s likelihood of success by providing support for all these established methods and standards. A CMDB, however, features none of these benefits. Moreover, there are many actual EA tools that don’t have proper standards support, which ought to give you an idea of just how much of an accelerant a mature EA tool will be for your project.


So there you have it. An EA platform is distinct from a CMDB. They each have their own purpose, which is why thinking that one can do the other’s job is totally inaccurate. Digital transformation initiatives are complex, large-scale projects that require change to be planned and managed across a multitude of fronts, not simply in the IT landscape.

Change involves strategy, processes, people, compliance, security, the wider business ecosystem, all of which are outside the scope of a CMDB. To ensure the success of a transformation initiative, organizations need an EA platform to act as a solid foundation for change. We’re confident that foundation is Horizzon as Bizzdesign was named leader by Gartner in their Enterprise Architecture Tools Magic Quadrant report.