Chaos builds around apps

Are you running your applications, or are your applications running you?

With a growing number of applications for different siloed business processes running across the enterprise, from legacy, custom-built applications to newer boxed products, and with more “must-have, whiz-bang” applications hitting the market, outsourcing and consulting firm Accenture believes it’s a question worth considering.

Mark Langlois, a partner in application outsourcing with Accenture, said the issue goes back to the legacy of how IT departments are organized.

“They’re set up like application development shops and focus more on building new applications and dropping them off in the business,” said Langlois. “Not a lot of thought is put into how you manage all the individual applications.”

Langlois said the tools for application inventorying are maturing, aided by the increasing popularity of Web services.

Still, while companies build and deploy new applications each year, they don’t often consider disbanding applications.

“The amount of IT funding available for what I call discretionary, change-the-business [activities] keeps getting smaller and smaller,” said Langlois. “Some organizations are spending large amounts of money on IT and are finding themselves handcuffed with no flexibility.”

Langlois said Accenture can help with a service it calls Application Optimization, an offshoot of application consolidation. It includes consulting work and a management system designed to help companies get more out of their application suite with an eye to rationalization and consolidation.

The first thing to be done through the service, Langlois said, is to assemble a list of applications enterprise-wide and to determine how much is being spent on them, as well as which are growing in importance to the business and which are declining.

Langlois said the idea of application rationalization is beginning to catch on, particularly with large organizations like banks and government institutions. He said Accenture worked with one “provincial/state government institution” to complete an application inventory and found it had 15,000 applications across the organization, including 32 for licensing alone.

“Some of the stuff you’re seeing with Service Ontario and the Federal government’s shared services centre, those are all things that are going to have a massive impact on reducing application inventories,” said Langlois.

However, the problem isn’t just about the number of applications an organization is running. Joel Martin, vice-president of the solutions advisory service with IDC Canada in Toronto, said the problem is really the processes involved in capturing information into those applications.

Companies have invested in different applications to meet different business needs, but Martin said having to enter the same or similar data in multiple applications leads to redundancies and mistakes and wastes staff time.

“[Companies need to] focus on the amount of time they spend interfacing with those applications by simplifying and amalgamating the interfaces,” said Martin.

The trend to one unified, contextual interface takes all data stores and applications and presents them to the individual based on the information they need, such as sales, marketing or finance, through one interface.

Martin said application consolidation and selected outsourcing could be beneficial to an organization’s IT staff. While IT staff may feel invested in applications they have developed, Martin said IT staffers are spending more of their time on “break-fix” activities; by freeing up their time for more challenging activities, morale can improve.

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