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For a helpful graphic, look up "Pillars of Configuration Management".
A "configured item" is something where you care about knowing and controlling its configuration/the definition of everything that makes up that item. Consider a car, which has a year, make, model, and VIN number. If you need a new part, you need to know what part number to buy. If there is a faulty part, the manufacturer needs to know all cars with that part so they can recall them.
This requires the 4 "pillars":
- Configuration identification: The complete list of parts on each car.
- Configuration change control: A process to ensure all changes to the parts on the car are reviewed and approved.
- Configuration status accounting: A record of the car's configuration over time including all of the changes to the parts.
- Configuration audits: The ability to ensure the actual parts on the car match the paperwork for what parts should be on the car.
It gets a bit more complicated than that because it applies to the functions of the car like how fast the turn signals blink, the processes and tools to build and maintain the car, etc. At it's very essence however, it is having an accurate record of every important piece of information about something (the product itself or otherwise), for its entire lifecycle.
Here's another example: We are going to be creating a new software application for the pharmaceutical industry. Given the highly regulated nature of that industry, there needs to be comprehensive, accurate documentation over the full product lifetime.
Documents such as the requirements package, design document, and user guides would be managed through configuration management to ensure that there were appropriate approvals, integrity of the contents and control around changes to those. Most likely each would be registered in a configuration management system which would provide an auditor with the ability to review the history of the creation and updates to the documents.
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