What Is the Purpose of Configuration Management?

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I noticed a discussion on LinkedIn the other day that asked this basic question: What is the purpose of configuration management (CM)? This seemingly simple question is the one we CM professionals are often asked, and at times we stumble to offer the answer that really drives home the true purpose of what we do as configuration managers.

The answers that respondents posted to the question varied from strict definitions to more touchy feely answers. Though we will never come to an agreement on what the purpose is, I think it’s worth looking at some of the responses.

One respondent said the purpose of CM is “to make the development process controllable and repeatable. This enables better quality in the product.” Brad Appleton said that the purpose of CM is “to ensure [product or system] integrity over the lifetime of its creation and use.” 

I think if you take these two answers and blend them together you would have a good response if someone asks you what is the purpose of CM. For me, the purpose of CM is to ensure the integrity of a product or system throughout its lifecycle by making the development or deployment process controllable and repeatable, therefore creating a higher quality product or system.

To get more responses to the question I Googled the following: What is the purpose of configuration management? I then pulled up a Department of Defense answer. As you can imagine, it was very strict and towed the line. The presentation went with configuration status accounting, configuration identification, configuration control, configuration audit, and data management as the purpose of CM.

In an article from the Department of Finance and Personnel in the United Kingdom, I found a less rigid answer to CM’s purpose. The website states the following: “The purpose of Configuration Management is to identify, track and protect the project’s deliverables or products from unauthorized change.” This answer delves into the “change management” aspect of CM that we often forget due to the intense focus on the product itself.

No discussion of CM’s purpose would be complete without looking at what the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) has to say. This organization includes service assets in its view of CM’s purpose by looking at the identify, control, record, report, and verify side of the equation. The ITIL also includes managing and protecting the integrity of configuration items in its assessment of CM's purpose.

Our main objective is to be able to answer the simple questions about our field, because sometimes we are asked the simplest of questions and are unable to provide an answer that really spells out what we do.

What do you think is the purpose of configuration management?

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Joe Townsend

Joe Townsend has been in the configuration management field for twelve years. He has worked for CNA Life Insurance, RCA, Boeing, UPS, and in state government. Joe has primarily worked with Serena tools, including PVCS Version Manager, Tracker, TeamTrack (Mashups), and Dimensions. He is an administrator for WebFocus and supports Eclipse users.