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The secret to rationalizing applications

After five decades of enterprise application bloat, it’s finally happened: The business is getting on board with IT and agrees that there needs to be fewer applications. That’s what Forrester analyst Phil Murphy writes in “The Secret to Rationalizing Applications: Start With the End in Mind”.

For years IT has had to live with disorganized and bloated application portfolios that have sucked up time and money because the business side hasn’t fully understood the depth of the problem. But that is starting to change.

The reason the business is starting to wake up and see that a bloated application portfolio is an expensive problem, Murphy writes, is because of the elephant in the room: the “keep-the-lights-on” expense of existing application portfolios. In some firms, these portfolios exceed 90% of the technology budgets, leaving just 10% for innovation, meaning application bloat is a business problem now. If rationalization is done and done correctly, he writes, then this “keeping-the-lights-on”-to-innovation ratio can be brought back to a more acceptable level — for example 80/20 or, even better, 50/50 — and therefore can free up funding and people resources so that more innovation can happen.

Still, wanting to do something doesn’t make it so. Although companies have realized it’s in their best interest to rationalize their application portfolios, Murphy writes that, unfortunately, many rationalize incorrectly. Based on hundreds of client inquiries, Murphy has found that most companies attempt to rationalize their application portfolios two or more times before seeing any real success. Others just give up after the first failure.

How to incorrectly rationalize applications

Murphy writes that Application Development and Delivery (AD&D) leaders that fail often follow a predictable series of steps:

– They create a list of application names.

– They gather metrics about each application over several months. For example, technical make-up such as platform, language, database, vendor, user satisfaction, and some indication of the applications’ business purpose.

– After this information is collected, it is dumped into a spreadsheet. However, spreadsheets have limitations and at this point companies begin to struggle to relate data elements together to compose a meaningful view.

– Then companies try to draw some insight from the data they have collected and this is where a “Eureka!”-type moment should happen. The depth of the problem should become clear, and the data should point business leaders to an obvious redirection of resources.

But it often doesn’t.

So why does this strategy not work? AD&D leaders often step into this process without first figuring out what they are going to do with the data they’ve collected, leaving them with data that yields little usable information.

This is the point where AD&D either simply gives up or they try again. The only problem is that people who were onboard with the project before are now skeptical and so the project may receive some opposition.

How to successfully rationalize applications

So how do you successfully rationalize your applications? Murphy’s suggestion to AD&D leaders is to start with the end in mind.  Here’s his four step process:

– Define the goal. Murphy writes that portfolio management and app rationalization share the same goal: transparency into resource allocation and consumption. He argues that transparency into consumption patterns will bring insight into how consumption may need to change.

Define the problem. Why do you need more transparency into resource allocation and consumption? What problem might this solve? Is it to reduce operation costs, reduce waste, eliminate redundant apps, increase resources for innovation?

– Define the audience. Who are you trying to convince that applications need to be winnowed? Are you talking to developers? Technology management professionals? The data you collect on application bloat and the insight you provide needs to be tailored to your audience. If your audience is business leaders or executive management, Murphy advises avoiding technical jargon and metrics to try to win them over.

– Define (and collect) the data that will resonate with your audience. Figure out which data (or combinations of data) will create a compelling story for whomever it is you are presenting to. Then go out and get it, working with other departments, such as finance and internal audit, if need be, to get it.

Though in the past this has been solely an IT issue, it is no longer that way. Successfully cleaning out your application portfolio will not only save money but allow IT more time to innovate — two important features if you want your business to thrive.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Kristen Lee, features writer, or find her on Twitter @Kristen_Lee_34.