Many aerospace and defense (A&D) leaders underestimate how critical certain types of information are to business success. One of those information types is master data – lists, repositories, and files that detail the myriad of fundamentals of the business.

Producing innovative products cost- effectively is impossible without access to core knowledge. And this list is long: products, capabilities, production systems and equipment; organizational structures, key people, plant sites and warehouses; processes (equipment, systems, concepts), contractors (primes and subs), customers (especially if they are government agencies), regulators, and more.

Nearly all of an enterprise’s decision makers rely in some way on these repositories, so they must be accurate, up-to-date, verifiable, and shared across the extended enterprise. However, sharing and reliability are often stymied by toolsets for master data known as master data management (MDM)1. Toolsets nearing the ends of their useful lives cause data to be late, outdated, missing, inaccurate, or not easily verifiable.

A related sharing-and-reliability headache is that many groups within an enterprise find ways to secure information repositories they use frequently. These ad hoc toolsets, cobbled together with too little regard for the needs of other business units, lead to weak security.

Multiple overlapping caches of master data with needless duplication lead to discrepancies that cause extra search and validation efforts. Locating data is another challenge. Many large A&D enterprises have no directory of all their databases, so tribal knowledge is the only way to navigate. Users are plagued with working in these environments and often resort to labels like “digital swamps” and “dumpster diving in the digital landfill.”

Many businesses lack a clear picture of who uses master data and who does not.

In part, this explains why enterprise search engines often treat the symptom, not the problem. Pragmatists in the enterprise often see this kind of digital discovery as futile. There are too many databases, too many unknown users and complexity, and too little effective governance. Each makes decisions riskier and operational plans/forecasts less reliable.

The C-suite and master data

C-suite executives can solve the problem by encouraging the enablement of master data with product lifecycle management (PLM), ensuring that governance is effective. PLM manages the creation and maintenance of data – including product master data.

As an enabler of obsolete toolsets and solutions, PLM should be a catalyst of product development strategies and business initiatives. CIMdata’s PLM Enterprise & Value Integration (PEVI) Knowledge Council is addressing PLM enablement in information technology (IT) and finance as well as in the C-suite. In PEVI Knowledge Council workshops, these questions regularly pop up:

Q: Why should the C-level be concerned about master data problems?

A: Poor quality master data and obsolete MDM toolsets directly impact decision-making, new-product introductions, and business plans.

Q: Why is master data an issue now?

A: Master data is becoming complex. Updates and changes are frequent while inputs are much more unpredictable. Master data is also becoming transactional – a problem because MDM toolsets are at least 20 years old. Originally, they were simply archival, hosting data that changed very little throughout time.2 Master data is also becoming predictive, and master data organizations are scrambling to catch up.

Q: Isn’t this IT’s headache?

A: While IT has to get the digital work done, PLM enablement of MDM may have a far lower priority within IT than in the C-suite, and ultimately the leadership allocates project funds.

Enabling master data

All the information needed in aircraft production and maintenance starts with master data.

PLM enablement is a cost-effective way to modernize master data and MDM toolsets and extend their usefulness with PLM’s end-to-end lifecycle-based approach to managing information. PLM is built upon functionality that is non-proprietary (open) and transparent to the users. It is the cost-effective strategy to meet everyday information needs in sourcing, contracting, manufacturing, sales, marketing, and service.

Enablement enhances obsolete and legacy toolsets so that all product-focused access to master data is managed with PLM. Same for master data inputs, updates, and reformatting. At the same time, consumption of the data – accessing and extracting its value in everyday use throughout the enterprise – can be managed directly by users or and indirectly with downstream solutions and toolsets.

Two overriding needs in the C-suite are faster responses to change and more accurate insights. With lifecycle approaches, executives gain easy access to information that touches fundamental concerns of the enterprise – sharing and building knowledge, fully utilizing available assets, exploring all possibilities of a course of action, empowering people, speeding decision making, eliminating wasteful processes, and keeping an eye on risks.

Building a culture of innovation

Proprietary IT systems – tequirements management, systems engineering, manufacturing planning, change management, and supports for long-term archiving and retrieval (LOTAR)3, international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR)4 – can mesh smoothly with PLM.

LOTAR is commonly used to ensure data for products with extremely long life cycles (30 years, for example) can be referenced and reused, requiring regular exchanges and interaction with master data. LOTAR is evolving from well-understood PDF formats to tracking 3D data in digital twins, electronic components, and software. As an industry standard, it turns up regularly in PLM discussions, so proper access management is needed to meet requirements such as those of ITAR.

In today’s A&D and manufacturing organizations, master data can be accessed globally so MDM tools must meet ITAR requirements to ensure compliance with export-control regulations. The PLM security models that underlie master data support ITAR in everyday use.

If data is the lifeblood of the enterprise, then it is crucial in A&D to understand where data comes from, where it goes, to whom, why, and what happens to data along the way.

Recognizing PLM's role in enabling master data can help the C-suite (and IT and finance) focus on what truly matters, which at the end of the day is satisfying A&D customers’ demanding requirements while aligning initiatives for digitalization.

A bit of reflection about PLM enablement and master data will uncover many ways MDM toolsets can be brought into the 21st century. If aligned well, many A&D enterprise challenges in producing innovative products can be overcome and its prospects for success will be greatly enhanced.


About the author: Tom Gill is practice manager for PLM enterprise value & integration, CIMdata Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan. He can be reached at 734.668.9922.


1. A thorough MDM description, “The What, Why, and How of Master Data Management,” can be found at The article was written in 2006 so some terminology is dated.

2. Archival data describes things and processes. Transactional data supports ever-changing business processes, innovation, and day-to-day operations. As the tempo of business and innovation accelerates, similar transformations may ultimately impact all older toolsets – and offer a big arena for PLM enablement.

3. LOTAR is long-term archiving and retrieval of 3D visualizations. It is the core of the ISO 10303 STEP AP239 standard for product lifecycle support.

4. ITAR is international traffic in arms regulations that control exports of U.S. weapons and munitions.