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The Many Flavors of Application Rationalization

Make Sure You Pick the Right Tool

We’ve stated previously that application portfolio management (APM) tools are generally more of a subset or use case of enterprises architecture (EA) tools. When you search for APM software, you’re more than likely to see some of the larger players in the EA tool space (LeanIX, Alfabet by Software AG, Hopex by Mega, iServer by Orbus).

Not all APM tools are EA focused, but most fall into this pattern of being an APM use case within a larger software category as its common primary function. For instance, many project portfolio management (PPM) tools offer APM, as do some service desk tools or other tools that provide some element of managing applications or software. The problem is, the methods of APM become heavily skewed to whatever that primary function is.

Any APM tool needs to have two very basic functions: application inventory control, which is simply the documentation of apps with several data fields to capture useful information, and application rationalization. An oversimplified description of application rationalization is a decision-making framework to help determine the strategic direction of your apps. Where rationalization can really range is with the inputs captured and applied to a framework that generates recommendations and informs those decisions on your applications or the portfolio.

A review of this tool space shows that different tool groups skew their rationalization framework by the information they are primarily designed to collect and analyze.

  • EA tools, with an APM use case, rationalize apps based on their alignment to business capabilities or other architectural components and identify redundancies across the portfolio.
  • Service desk tools, with an APM use case (APM ServiceNow), rationalize apps based their maintenance history and estimations of support costs.
  • Application performance monitoring tools, with an APM use case (Highlight by CAST), rationalize apps based on code analysis.
  • Project portfolio management tools, with an APM use case (Clarity by Broadcom, Enterprise by Planview), focus on presenting the results of rationalization via a roadmap and often focus less on their ability to perform rationalization.

This is not to say that these tools all neglect other data points. Most of the tools will have data fields to input scores or ratings for the data points they do not specialize in, but the means of collecting this information leaves much to be desired. More likely than not, there will be substantial manual data collection and analysis even with integrations and additional software purchases.

This presents a couple problems for those looking for an APM solution:

  • It’s more difficult to find an inexpensive tool that purely focuses on APM. Many are part of a bigger feature set that rarely comes cheap. The potential bonus here is that you may currently have this functionality buried in one your tools that you weren’t aware of. Fingers crossed.
  • You can’t fully remove manual data collection and analysis. However, would this ever really be the case?

As much as many IT managers don’t want to accept it, application rationalization requires manual steps. As mentioned above, rationalization is a decision-making framework, but it is also a process of stakeholder engagement and data collection.

Info-Tech’s Five Lens Model for application rationalization outlines the five main criteria for evaluating your apps.

Each lens is represented by the factors or specific data points that are the inputs into your rationalization decision-making framework. Unfortunately, many of the data points are somewhat qualitative or subjective and no software provides the full picture needed to perform rationalization properly or arrive at the best-possible decisions for the organization.

The important lesson here does not differ from that of any software: the tool is only as good as your process around it. Regardless of what APM solution you select, you still need to put in the steps to ensure the quality and appropriateness of data. You still need to build in the responsibilities of ownership of the tool and stewardship of the information. You still need to secure sponsorship from the organization’s leader and build relationships and engage with key application stakeholders. Application portfolio management tools don’t automate APM, you still need someone to fill that role.

Our Take

When selecting your APM tool, focus on your priority goals for the application portfolio:

  • If you’re struggling with redundancy and an unawareness of the business use of application, EA tools will clarify where you overlap and where gaps exist.
  • If you’re aiming to drop application costs, a tool like APM ServiceNow will provide a better picture of what your most costly applications are from an internal support perspective.
  • If you’re concerned about technical risk, application performance monitoring or code analytics tools will help you understand the extent of code quality and technical debt and which applications are your biggest culprits and present a danger to the business.
  • If you believe you already know the best direction for your apps (be careful, you have a bias and so do the owners and users) and you really just need a roadmap to show to stakeholders, then the PPM tools may solve your bigger need.

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