Does your application portfolio belong on an episode of “Hoarders”?

charlesbetz.jpgBy Charlie Betz

 

Charlie Betz is research director for IT portfolio management at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) and author of the white paper, “Business Intelligence for the Business of IT.”

 

Have you seen any of the reality TV shows about hoarding? There’s “Hoarders,” “Extreme Clutter,” “Life Laundry” and many more. Some of the overstuffed environments on these shows will make your skin crawl. But this is essentially the same thing that’s going on in most IT organizations. Old and redundant applications are kept around for the same reasons that people keep unnecessary stuff.

 

The sad truth is that many companies are spending tens of millions of shareholder dollars on application “stuff” that might come in handy … someday.

 

Do you need a hoarding intervention?

The effects of application hoarding can be extreme. You can easily spend millions of dollars when you factor in the security, patching, updates and so on you need to do on your outdated portfolio. Plus, you’ve got to decide whether to let servers obsolesce, or whether you’ll buy new ones for all your old junk. You’ve also got multiple vendor relationships to manage. Maybe – because of one application you haven’t gotten rid of – you’re still dealing with a tiny remnant of a company that long ago got absorbed into a bigger firm. And don’t forget you’ve got to pay for power, space and cooling.

 

Even virtualizing hoarded applications becomes costly. You might spend tens of thousands of dollars just to get older applications to work virtually. And these older apps add complexity to your data center, since you’ve added obsolete OSes to the mix.

 

There are numerous consequences to unmanaged complexity in an IT environment. But for CIOs, and other C-level execs, the main reason to zero in on application hoarding is that it adds real costs to the bottom line. So how do you tame your application clutter? Here are three steps.

 

Step 1: Inventory

To get started you need an initiative to inventory everything you have. You need to understand:

 

  • How something gets into the portfolio
  • What does good data quality look like
  • Who’s the gatekeeper

 You also have to define what you mean by “application.” I’ve led initiatives like this both for a major financial institution as well as for a retail electronics firm, and you have to understand that this is a subjective question, and reasonable people may disagree. The important thing is to determine who has the authority to say, “this is or is not an application in my portfolio.” Essentially, it’s an alternate chart of accounts for IT, and what you need is usefulness – not perfection.

 

Step 2: Rationalize

After your inventory is complete, it’s time to bring in your enterprise architect or application architect. You need someone to ask, Why do we have two different HR systems? What will it take to get it down to one? This person should be able to take an enterprise perspective, because application managers and business units tend to want to keep everything.

 

A good enterprise architect can understand both the apps on their own terms but also be able to broker conversations with the stakeholders. They’re diplomats. If you’re serious about clearing application clutter, you need someone who can drive agreement.

 

Step 3: Sunset

Even after you’ve made decisions on what to get rid of, you can’t just turn things off. You need to make a number of decisions:

 

  • What sequence should you follow? Execution mistakes can result if you turn systems off in the wrong order. If System A depends on System B to run, you can’t shut B down first. This is where a CMDB becomes essential to tell you what’s going on in your environment and who’s using what.
  • What about data preservation. Do any systems contain records that need to be retained? What does legal say? You need to work with your legal counsel to find out what regulations apply to you.
  • What do you do with hard drives? In some industries with iron-clad custody protocols hard drives must not only be shredded, the shredding must be videotaped. In other businesses, you can simply take a magnet to it.

Prevention

After you’ve cleaned house, you need to prevent application clutter from happening again.

 

As part of your decluttering, you should have an ongoing roadmap based on an accurate inventory. This is where enterprise architecture, application portfolio management (APM) and project and portfolio management (PPM) tools can help. APM gives you a centralized repository that shows redundancies, while PPM gives you the ability to drive investments strategically. Together they help you reap efficiencies – and keep application clutter at bay.

 

Related links:

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Comments
JudyRedman | ‎04-30-2012 10:42 AM

Charlie, great post. I have used the exact same analogy about IT  and "Hoarding: Buried Alive."  Good actionable inisght in your post.  Thanks for your contributions.

~JR

Nadhan | ‎04-30-2012 04:21 PM

Great points, Charlie about sunseting an application.  Here are my thoughts on retiring an application in two different posts:

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