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High Application Satisfaction Starts With Discovering Your Application Inventory


Application sprawl and shadow IT are two of the biggest culprits in complicating application portfolios and IT support. As organizations look within their IT practice for opportunities to streamline support, minimize costs, and improve business enablement, many simply do not know where to focus their efforts to maximize value generation.

The effort to evaluate and justify applications (i.e. application rationalization) is a process which can be lengthy, resource intensive, and very difficult to execute. However, Info-Tech’s member experiences have shown that the most difficult challenge is compiling a comprehensive application inventory. In that sense, the biggest question facing an application strategy is not a matter of what should we do with our applications, but rather what applications do we have.

For large and distributed organizations, the manual generation of a starting list of applications is beyond what an organization is willing to invest. Automated application discovery and inventory tools enable organizations to scan corporate systems to reveal what applications are being used, who are using them, and how they are consuming resources. However, these tools only paint part of the holistic picture. Some IT environments may require access to end-user devices and applications may need to be installed on machines that are not discoverable by scanning capabilities.

Automated Application Discovery and Inventory

Automated application discovery and inventory capabilities are usually one feature within a more comprehensive toolset. Therefore, your choice of tool and vendor will depend on the reason why you need to gather your application inventory and how you intend on using this information. Automated application discovery and inventory can be found in several types of tools.

  • Security scanning and analysis tools evaluate your organization’s public exposure through applications and other end points so that you can make an informed decision on how security practices should be implemented. A number of vendors in this space focus on identifying your system’s web vulnerability. Vendors in this space who offer automated application discovery and inventory include: High-Tech Bridge, Veracode, Qualys, and Tenable.
  • IT operations, service and asset management tools give you the ability to assess the value and effectiveness of the IT services, including applications, you provide to stakeholders. It gives your service desk and operations teams visibility into the scope of items they are responsible for managing, including licensing costs, application versions, users, and SLAs management. Vendors in this space who offer automated application discovery and inventory include: SolarWinds, CA Technologies, ServiceNow, IBM, Oracle, Micro Focus, Axios, Alloy Software, and Opmantek.
  • Application performance management (APM) tools track an application’s use and performance by monitoring the various system stack components supporting the application’s execution. Some key features of this type of tool include monitoring system calls and queries, code level diagnostics, and system performance bottleneck assessments and resolutions. Vendors in this space who offer automated application discovery and inventory include: BMC, AppDynamics, Stackify, ManageEngine, Riverbed, LogicMonitor, and MindArray.
  • Configuration management database (CMDB) tools document, analyze, manage, deliver, and monitor system and application changes considering the relationships and dependencies they have on existing configurations. Insights from this type of tool visually demonstrate system complexity that will influence architectural design and application deployment. Vendors in this space who offer automated application discovery and inventory include: Device42, Micro Focus, ServiceNow, Cherwell, and Microsoft.

Each tool will have a different approach on application discovery and inventory whether that be directly (e.g. application metadata, install files, configuration files) or indirectly (e.g. API calls, system service requests, data transactions). Depending on what application or system data is gathered, applications may be viewed and documented differently in one tool versus another, particularly if your applications have large footprints and are tightly integrated.

No matter which vendor you choose to perform automated application discovery and inventory, they should have several key features and capabilities.

  • Application Dependency Mapping Establishing and tracking the relationships and dependencies between system components, applications, and IT services. The ideal tool will be able to generate visual maps automatically.
  • Agentless and Agent Discovery Capabilities to scan systems with both agent and agentless approaches. Agent-based scanning provides comprehensive information of applications used in individual end points which is helpful in minimizing its IT footprint. However, agents require end-point permissions and access. Agentless-based scanning provides a broader and holistic view of deployed applications without the need to install an agent on end devices which can be good enough for inventory awareness.
  • Data Export Capability Easy export of application inventory information to be used in reports and other tools.
  • Dashboards and Chart Visualization Detailed list of the application inventory including version number, number of users, licenses, deployment location, and other application details. These details will inform decision makers of each application’s health and its candidacy for further rationalization activities.
  • Customizable Scanning Scripts Tailor your application discovery approach by modifying the scripts used to scan your systems.
  • Integration With Third-Party Tools Easily integrate with other systems with out-of-the-box plugins or customizable APIs.


  1. Define your application discovery and inventory process and indicate who should be involved in the process. See our Discover Your Applications blueprint for more information.
  2. Identify the information that must be pulled from your application discovery process to determine where to perform further analysis.
  3. Use both automated and manual practices to reveal the various applications within your organization and build your initial inventory.
  4. Begin the rationalization and roadmapping of your applications. See our Visualize Your Application Portfolio Strategy With a Business Value-Driven Roadmap blueprint for more information.

Bottom Line

Automated application discovery and inventory capabilities empower decision makers to create a comprehensive list of deployed applications on corporate systems and end-user devices. This capability is embedded within more comprehensive IT management tools which may dissuade prospects from investing their time, effort, and money. Most importantly, this automated approach does not eliminate the need for collaboration with business and IT subject matter experts, and system and business capability assessments. Evaluate the rationale behind the need of automated application discovery and identify opportunities where this information can bolster the value in other areas of your organization, whether that be configuration management, IT management, or business value realization.

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