Identifying and managing application personalities

Managing IT applications can be a lot like dealing with co-workers and office politics. Every system has its own quirks and the sooner you identify and play them to your advantage, the more you'll get out of them.

Too often, IT budgets are used to simply manage and run the organisations’ infrastructure and not to drive business innovation. This is exacerbated by legacy systems and applications that are not able to accommodate today’s rapid pace of change. This approach often leads to stagnation and difficulty in meeting ever changing business needs. A modernised applications portfolio integrated and transformed to new architectures, will boost growth, agility and the ability to innovate. 

According to a blog written by E.G.Nadhan, Distinguished Technologist and Cloud Advisor for HP Enterprise Services, applications tend to “have a mind” of their own, leading us to form our own unique impressions about their behaviour and presence.

Embarking on the journey to gain a deep understanding of the various personalities in your applications portfolio and creating a full plan is key to modernising legacy systems.  It provides a clear picture of the benefits to be gained from modernisation, which in turn creates a strong case for progression.

What is an applity?

Every organisation has its personalities – and they each need to be managed in different ways to ensure they perform to their full potential. This applies in the IT domain as well, where applications exhibiting distinct characteristics can be identified. Profiling applications and identifying their personalities, or ‘applities’, is important for ongoing management and also for planning a route towards modernisation.

Organisations too often find themselves struggling and wasting precious resources to support an out-of-control applications portfolio. A good understanding of each applity makes it easier for the organisation to develop an effective IT strategy and make decisions on legacy systems – whether they should be kept, changed or retired. This capacity to confidently transform a set of applications will help boost growth, agility and the ability to innovate.

Depending on a variety of factors, applications can exhibit differing behaviours. These include their presence and availability, the domains they look after, their ability to meet evolving business functionality and their adaptability to change.

Just like how we adopt alternative ways to manage different relationships, Nadhan believes that enterprises can deploy effective management techniques appropriate for these behaviours.

A who’s who of applities

There are five principal applities common to most enterprise IT portfolios. Each requires specific management approaches and centralised governance to tackle the different challenges they pose.

The Boss

This is the central application – the omnipresent applity that is accessed by the whole enterprise for major business functions.

Typical examples of The Boss include an order management application for a retailer or claims processing for an insurance company – in other words, systems which need to be available at all times.

Investments in The Boss are usually a top priority to ensure it continues providing a solid foundation for different services. Around-the-clock operational support is essential and any changes made require extreme rigor with near real-time updates for all users.

The Boss is that bedrock applity as long as it is well taken care of.

The Lone Star

Reliable and steady, the old faithful Lone Star is very effective at enabling a specific, critical business or technical functionality.  Its role is somewhat behind-the-scenes but, like any steady Eddy, it’s always there no matter the circumstance.

Lone Stars can be found running rate calculation engines for financial companies or course scheduling programs at universities. Unless there is a significant change to the functionality it is enabling, there is no reason to touch such applications. They just need to be available when required.

Capital investments are rarely needed and are usually at the departmental level for people directly served by the application. Changes can be made without major communication, provided change control procedures are in place.

The Crowd Pleaser

Everyone’s favourite, the Crowd Pleaser, is an applity with its own fan club. Think of a well-designed search application that is able to retrieve the right information at the right time for everyone concerned. Such an application needs to be made available all the time and it must be allowed to do its job without being overloaded with additional functionalities. Any enhancements must be made and broadcasted with caution as users may not be happy.

Centrally administered governance is best for the Crowd Pleaser because its reputation is based on its ability to meet the requirements of various enterprise segments.

The Problem Child

Just like adolescents, the Problem Child is unpredictable and troublesome. This CIO’s nightmare is often a home-grown application – something that has been transitioned across multiple project teams with their own views on its underlying functionality.

The Problem Child has bugs, regularly crashes and no-one wants to take ownership. A clearly defined exit strategy from the current mode of operation is essential, which may include fixing the root cause or terminating the application.

For the Problem Child, investments need to be prioritised and users kept informed. Remedial measures may also need to be applied for all such applities.

The Generalist

This is the chameleon of the application world with applity traits that are common across all industries. The Generalist is often found in back office applications and has standardised functionality, like general ledgers. It can fit into any group within an organisation and quickly adapts to its surroundings.

Generalists are prime candidates for outsourcing to third-party service providers because there is minimal scope for competitive differentiation. Innovation is better applied to core or critical functionality.

Services delivered by the Generalist can impact on the daily lives of internal and external customers. Hence, service level expectations must be consistently met. Standardisation should drive investment priorities while communication to users must be proactive and accurate.

A lightweight governance model, coupled with an outsourcing strategy, is adequate.

Assessing an application portfolio

An application rationalisation assessment of the various applities is an important step in any transformation journey. Key elements of an applications assessment include:

  • An inventory to define the specific strategic value of each application, its operational impact and total cost.
  • Analysis of the technical and functional quality of each application.
  • Identifying duplicate and redundant capabilities.
  • Mapping the portfolio to business strategies and technology objectives, with individual action plans based on cost, risk, quality, complexity, value and age.
  • Working out the enterprise benefits of applications rationalisation.

From here, a modernisation roadmap can be developed with a supporting business case to transform legacy systems and help organisations deliver:

  • A correct IT strategy from an applications management perspective.
  • Centrally administered governance.
  • The nature and frequency of communication for various stakeholders.
  • Different service levels.
  • Types of investments with supporting rationale. 

Steve Saltar is  the vice president, Applications Services and Business Services, Enterprise Services, at Hewlett-Packard, Asia Pacific and Japan.

Karl Grant is the director, Applications Services, Enterprise Services, at Hewlett-Packard, South Pacific.

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