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Configuration management in aerospace and defense

Read Accenture’s advice on the six key questions to ask when faced with configuration management in the aerospace & defense industry.


Configuration management (CM) first emerged in Aerospace & Defense (A&D) in the 1950s, as a “librarian activity” supporting large space and military industrial programs. Since then, CM’s role and importance have evolved beyond recognition.

Today, Configuration Management is established as a fundamental backbone of companies’ performance – a vital set of processes that underpin the consistent quality and delivery of any Aerospace & Defense system or service, by aligning functional and physical attributes throughout the lifecycle with related information on requirements, design and operations.

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This central role means Configuration Management (CM) in Aerospace & Defense now goes far beyond tracking and documenting changes, with industry leaders deploying integrated and dynamic CM capabilities that closely connect every stage of the product lifecycle and every participant across the extended enterprise. These advances have transformed Configuration Management in three dimensions: from a vertical and engineering orientation to a horizontal orientation spanning functions and external providers; from static and product data-oriented to dynamic and process-oriented; and from product-focused to customer-focused.


For Aerospace & Defense (A&D) companies, this transformation presents challenges that are complex – but achievable. As historically engineering-centric organizations, A&D firms have started structuring and federating their engineering functions and technical product data around Product Data Management systems (PDM). Configuration Management (CM) is being used to integrate elements including manufacturing, on-board procurement, customer support and services, suppliers and customers – thus fueling the journey towards extended enterprise-wide, end-to-end, collaborative CM. Our experience with clients undertaking this CM journey highlights six questions that arise consistently for executives in different roles.

1.  What benefits can I expect from CM?

2.  How can we create a product structure that’s right first time and doesn’t inhibit industrial flexibility?

3.  I feel CM’s getting out of control: on the one hand, it’s mobilizing too many costly skilled people doing administrative tasks; on the other, I feel it’s not being properly managed. What can I do?

4.  Our CM process generates lots of data. How can we manage and use it so we always know the overall status of our program/products?

5.  There are many different models for integrating the ‘extended enterprise’ of suppliers and partners. Which one should I choose?

6.  My company’s strategy is to achieve 50% of revenue from services within three years. How can I manage product configuration information to support my service offer and achieve this goal?


Configuration management (CM) is a capability that Aerospace & Defense (A&D) companies must master in order to break down organizational silos, improve their cost, quality and time to market, and develop their service offerings. However, mastering the basics is no longer enough to gain competitive advantage. To realize CM’s full potential, industry leaders need to stop regarding it as a constraint and start extending their CM capability across the entire lifecycle and the extended enterprise. This task requires all A&D companies to answer complex questions of the type detailed in this report. The relative importance of these questions will vary between businesses. But in every case, they must be answered in a way that is innovative – and tailored to the organization’s specific context and need.