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PLE: Creating Products in Classified Environments

Paul Clements
By Paul Clements Vice President of Customer Success, BigLever Software

Aerospace and defense companies are faced with daunting security challenges as products become increasingly sophisticated. As product complexity grows—integrating thousands of software, electrical and mechanical parts—the security risks and organizational hurdles grow in tandem. One key issue these manufacturers face: how to design, produce and evolve a product line portfolio that contains both classified and unclassified product content in a way that meets stringent security requirements yet is highly efficient, cost effective and fully leverages personnel with varying security access privileges.

Traditional product-centric development approaches are too inefficient and costly to effectively address this multifaceted challenge. They also create big opportunities for human error which introduces risk. New approaches are needed to reduce complexity and security risks, increase engineering and operational efficiency, and lower production costs.

One such approach is feature-based product line engineering (PLE)—an engineering practice that simplifies the creation, delivery, maintenance, and evolution of a product line portfolio. It provides a unified product variant management approach and enables a holistic view into the feature variations for a product family, eliminating the need for different variant management mechanisms across an enterprise.

With feature-based PLE, an organization creates a “superset” of digital assets (requirements, code, tests, BOMs, documentation, etc.), which is shared across the entire product line. These digital assets are equipped with all the options offered in the product line. Feature-based PLE provides an automated production system that assembles and configures the shared assets based on a product’s Bill of Features, which defines the selected features for that product variation. Thus, features become the basis for product design, development and production—and the common language for everyone across the enterprise. Managing this superset (instead of the product-specific instances) dramatically streamlines and simplifies the engineering and operational processes for producing, delivering, and evolving the product line.

How does feature-based PLE work for a product line that contains classified and unclassified product content, where production spans multiple security zones and the manufacturer is operating under stringent security requirements?

There are three governing principles for handling classified information and product content:

  • Maintain all information/product content associated with different levels of classification on separate servers and in separate physical environments.

  • Allow information/product content to move from a lower classification level to higher, but not the other way around.

  • Work as much as possible in the unclassified environment. Evolution of the product line necessitates the evolution of both unclassified and classified product content, which must be synchronized. When new versions of the unclassified content are baselined, they are copied into the higher-level classification area. The unclassified content can then be merged with the classified content baseline, which itself has been evolving. The synchronization ensures the two baselines are compatible. As a result, the unclassified and classified parts, when combined, produce a consistent product line state from which correct products can be derived.

The needs of A&D firms have outgrown the limitations of product-centric development methods and tools. A&D manufacturers that adopt feature-based PLE are reporting order-of-magnitude improvements in efficiency, time-to-market, product line scalability and product quality. And, their customers are benefiting from dramatically reduced costs and shorter delivery times. The end result is increased competitive advantage in today’s security-critical marketplace.

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