Getting More from Your Application Portfolio - Page 1

Oct 9, 2007

Ramesh Dorairaj

Minimizing and eliminating waste is the central theme of lean manufacturing. This and a follow up article will address the issue of non-value added work and suggest ways of minimizing or eliminating it. Non value added work can arise due to the following factors: over production, motion, waiting, the process itself, inventory, correction, and conveyance.

Over Production

Overproduction is the set of activities that leads to manufacturing products that do not have a demand. In application maintenance, these can be translated as: excess of applications and excess of maintenance on those applications.

Excess of Applications: Given the extensively distributed nature of some IT installations, especially in large organizations, there is every possibility of a number of redundant applications are simply not being switched off. Look closely at the production tickets/issues that are forthcoming. The first candidates are those applications on which there are no activities.

To identify applications that are no longer needed, begin with an application map. The application map is a simple table that lists the business function (e.g. Payroll), business process, business sub-process, and the corresponding applications.

First Step: Discover Overlapping Applications : Overlapping applications are those that have significant commonality of features. Multiple functions supporting a single business process/sub-process are most probably overlaps.

For the applications that appear to be overlaps:

  • Get an overview of the data stored by or reported by all the applications;
  • Explore for duplicate functionality, data storage, technology mismatches, and investment; and
  • Identify interfaces between such applications.
  • Second Step: Discover Singleton Applications : Singleton applications service a single critical link-process or an interface process. In your application map, these appear only once. The cost of maintaining these applications tends toward extremes, either very negligible, or very high. Singleton applications should be retired.

    Third Step: Discover Redundant Processes and Applications : Redundancies creep into application portfolios typically by acquisitions and expansion into new geographies, addition of service lines, and in some cases, the addition of new customer categories.

    Redundancies also occur as a consequence of similar business processes being followed in different units, and therefore, handled by different applications. Check whether some of the applications can be consolidated.

    Step Four: Discover Stop-Gaps, Roamers, and Chains: Stop-gaps, roamers and chains are applications that usually occur in large portfolios. They usually soak up more than their share of maintenance costs and are ideal candidates for consolidation and replacement.

    A stop gap is an application that services a sub-process whose predecessor and successor processes are supported by one application. Gaps, on the other hand, are processes unsupported by any application.

    Roamers are applications that appear at random in the application map. They usually differ in architecture from the rest of the applications. They tend to consume a higher proportion of maintenance costs.

    Chains are a series of sub-processes, each supported by a different application.

    Now that the applications contributing to inefficiencies in your portfolio have been identified, you can prepare your roadmap to rationalize your portfolio. Identifying applications that need to be retired makes it easy to filter out requests pertaining to that application.

    Excess of Maintenance

    The major causes for needless and early releases are: poor governance inadequate communication between the maintenance teams and business; inadequate controls on the requesting process; inability of the IT team to establish, communicate and allocate costs to business units; and politics.

    Adequate governance on application maintenance is the needed protective cover under which maintenance teams can function effectively. Governance must be designed in a manner to ensure that genuine requests are handled in a smooth and easy manner; while filtering out the needless requests.

    Retaining Flexibility while Optimizing Releases : One of the concerns repeatedly mentioned by clients is the fear of loss of flexibility in moving to a structured model of request prioritization. However, flexibility needed for a business usually occurs within a narrow time-window. You can schedule adequate effort for these time-windows and empower a few people within those units to break request queues. The other stakeholders need to be also informed of this calendar and ensure that their critical requests are not affected.

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