A Case for Simplifying IT

What is the problem?

Many companies are finding that 60-80% of their IT budget is required just to ‘run’ the business. As a result, growth and innovation initiatives struggle to get the required funding. Most CIOs know this high costs is a result of complexity in the IT environment. Because of this complexity, it costs a lot to support current IT, and costs of implementing new projects increase.

Simplifying technology environment is necessary to create the financial capacity to support growth initiatives.

Why is IT so complex?

ComplexityMost CIOs struggle to answer a simple question like ‘how many applications do you have? A typical IT shop can have hundreds of applications.  Large application portfolios result from legacy systems, mergers and acquisitions, organisational silos, urgency leading to tactical solutions, and vendor over promising.

The issue is then further complicated by multiple technology platforms, some new and others legacy. There is usually a proliferation of servers with unique configurations to run these applications.

Strategies such as ‘best of breed’ can also increase complexity. As different solutions from different vendors (using different technologies) are acquired and integrated over time, the overall complexity keeps growing.

Duplicate or multiple systems

Companies go through mergers and acquisitions. Each acquired company brings some unique business processes, and rules and systems, which support these. This invariably creates an increase in applications that do similar functions, but are different or need a different technology platform.  New interfaces are needed to bring the information together from these systems. In these cases getting accurate stock information is very difficult. Complexity thus leads to reduced accuracy.

At other times, different departments have their own sales tracking or customer management systems, which largely do the same function. In large organisations, due to silo decision-making processes there can be multiple such duplications. A company I worked in had 26 different payroll systems.

Obsolete systems

In some companies there are many applications, but only a limited funding for maintenance. As a result of budget and inertia, most applications are not upgraded for years. They become unsupported, and the company must rely on old technologies. By avoiding or deferring the upgrades, we create a ‘technology debt’, which increases over time like a snowball. This means that when upgrades are required (e.g. year 2000) these become expensive. Application functionality also gets out of date and new functionality cannot be quickly leveraged. Newer applications and more interfaces are then created, thus compounding the problem.

Abundance of Interfaces

SpaghettiNo CIO intentionally wants to increase the complexity of IT. New applications are acquired for new initiatives and business expansion. Many start as stand-alone applications, however, over time interfaces are built between new and existing applications.

As the increase in interfaces is proportional to the square of the number of applications, the total number of interfaces quickly multiples. Many of these interfaces are inefficient, as they are trying to connect two systems with different processing rules, data structures. and data meaning. As the number of interfaces increases, their quality decreases further. Daniel Lebeau – Group CIO of GlaxoSmithKline has called interfaces the ‘cancer’ of IT.

High cost of complexity

Other than the high IT cost to run a company’s business, complexity brings about other costs. When business processes are fragmented across multiple applications, it becomes difficult to get right data. Unsupported technologies increase the risks of failure.

Perhaps the biggest cost of complexity is the reduction in a company’s ability to take advantage of new opportunities presented by the new digital economy. Taking advantage of these opportunities needs streamlined business processes, accurate master data, and a robust foundation of systems. An IT environment that is complex and fragmented with a mix of technologies, and applications is vulnerable to hackers.

Complexity can be justified in some cases. It is usually justified when complexity allows the business to differentiate its offerings to create value.

Why simplify?

Three benefits of simplicity include reductions in operating costs, increases in agility, and the lowering of risk. As Tim Schaefer, CIO at Northwest Mutual, explains:

“There are actually three types of value that we are generating out of the simplification effort. First and foremost, we want to create dollars that can be invested in growth opportunities. Second is the value we get around risk reduction, and in particular, how we can increase the agility of the company. Finally, by simplifying our technology environment, we are actually opening up room and capacity for newer technologies.”

Strategies for the Simplification of IT

It is not easy to cut IT complexity, a sustained and multi-pronged approach is needed.  We recommend three key strategies. These are

1)      Rationalisation of applications;

2)      Standardisation of infrastructure; and

3)      Effective governance.

1. Rationalisation of Applications

For many companies scope for application rationalisation is large.  Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimate that reductions of up to 40% in the number of applications, and 15-20% of IT costs is often possible.

Application rationalisation involves consolidating duplicate/redundant applications and the progressive decommissioning of replaced applications. Without decommissioning, the cost reductions will only be minor.

Successful rationalisation has three prerequisites:

  1. Top team agreement – As the rationalisation is a longer term initiative and not a quick fix, strong commitment from the top team for the simplification agenda is necessary.
  2. Proper funding for the job – Often the business case for the rationalisation does not seem attractive in the short-term. Ensuring proper and sustained funding is necessary.
  3. Tracking progress – Disciplined measurement of progress is necessary to make sure that goals of rationalisation are being achieved. Aligning IT Executive incentives to the reduction in applications is also recommended (e.g.  5% reduction each year).

2. Standardisation of Infrastructure

BCG suggest that reducing “infrastructure patterns” (configurations of software, hardware, and middle-ware) should be reduced to a smaller number of standard configurations.  Typically the patterns can be cut down by more than half. The recent growth in the adoption of virtualization technologies has broken the ‘one application, one server’ rule, which makes the rationalisation process somewhat simpler. Reductions in these patterns cut maintenance costs, enable better deals from the vendors, and cut provisioning time.

BCG reports that one company had 9,000+ applications and over 1,700 technology patterns. All of these required maintenance. This company eventually determined that just 7 patterns would support 80% of the application needs. This level of standardisation enabled cost savings of 40% over three years.

3. Effective Governance

Effective IT governance is needed to make sustained reductions in complexity. If  business units continue to make decisions in a silo way, and little thought is given to impact on other systems or other business units, complexity will start to grow again.

A clear governance framework and agreed blueprint describing target architecture are essential. Simplification principles should become part of this governance framework to prevent building new complexity. Strict governance enables effective portfolio planning and the optimisation of IT architecture. This is a key to reducing complexity in the longer term.

Summary

In most companies IT complexity grows with time. Tactical systems, mergers and acquisitions, and new technologies all lead to a more complex IT environment. The result is fragmented business processes, lack of correct business data, higher costs and risks, and lower agility. The bulk of the IT budget then gets consumed in keeping the business running.

IT simplification is not easy, but the benefits are large. It frees financial resources, reduces risk, and improves agility. Reducing the number of applications in the portfolio and reducing infrastructure patterns will simplify the IT environment. Success depends on a strong commitment from the top team and effective governance.

Written by: Hemant Kogekar

Running IT as a business: Myth or reality

IT as a business

In January this year Bob Lewis posted an article in Infoworld titled “ Run IT as a business — why that’s a train wreck waiting to happen“. In this article, Bob suggests that a lot of current thinking about running IT like a business is misguided and leading CIOs in the wrong direction. This article explores what is ‘Running IT like a business’ and what should a CIO do?

The myth of the internal customer – IT is expected to treat internal departments as customers and deliver them the software or projects that they have asked for. The problem is that customers don’t always know what they want and they are reluctant to commit anything to paper. Even if they do commit something to paper their thinking (and often budgets) demand a “silo” solution which only partially meets the needs of the enterprise. As a result, IT architecture suffers. IT becomes just an order-taker and not a partner.

IT Costs are always too high – Comparing costs of IT services to the external market is always fraught with danger. Why does a corporate laptop cost $2000 when I can buy a laptop from the local store for half of that price? It doesn’t matter that the other would not run corporate applications or the reliability is too low or it does not include software licenses. Similar stories are heard about the network costs, applications and hosting.

Challenge of the charge-back – IT as a business is expected to charge internal customers for its services. Charge-back is a popular mechanism for this. However, charge-back can create unintended behaviours, where departments try to reduce costs by avoiding IT services. I know a department, which stopped using help-desk for password resets due to the cost of the calls. This resulted in major security issues. Rather than figuring out how to reduce the overall costs, departments tend to focus on individual cost reductions.

IT seen as a vendor – Business begins to see IT as a vendor (usually an expensive one). This results in an arms-length relationship between IT and the rest of the business. As a result, trust begins to erode and outsourcing IT begins to look like an attractive proposition.

Bob believes, “The alternatives begin with a radically different model of the relationship between IT and the rest of the business — that IT must be integrated into the heart of the enterprise, and everyone in IT must collaborate as a peer with those in the business who need what they do.”

Is IT ready for the radical model?

Bob’s comments are spot-on! I agree that turning IT into an internal business unit, which conducts business transactions with other departments, is a less than optimal model. So what should a CIO do? For IT to be accepted as a credible internal partner there are a few things IT needs to get right.

  • Is IT managing service right? – When IT fails to deliver basic services and project, it would be impossible to develop any meaningful relationship with business.
  • Is IT managing the budget right? – If IT budgets are not predictable and IT does not understand or manage its costs, IT would not have much credibility in the enterprise.
  • Is IT investment generating value for the business? – IT must be able to demonstrate that its projects and investments support the business strategy and deliver benefits for the business such as, revenue growth, cost reduction, better decisions or reduction in risk.
  • Is IT managing the resources (or capability) right? – IT capabilities consist of people, technology assets, intellectual capital (processes and know-how) as well as relationships (trust and shared ownership). Successful IT groups leverage these capabilities to deliver and sustain competitive advantage for the business.
  • Is IT managing the “business of IT” right? – Managing the business of IT means managing the costs of IT services and projects, managing demand for services, having effective governance processes along with delivering and communicating value.

IT as a businessThe “radical model” moves the focus from managing IT like a business to managing IT for business value. When IT is solely focused on chargeback and internal customer requirements, it is not always working in the best interests of the enterprise as a whole. But it is neither easy nor straightforward to make the transition from the traditional to the new operating model. Martin Curley of Intel uses the business value maturity framework to describe the journey.

Managing IT for Value

There are interrelated challenges of managing IT for business value (or contribution to business success), management of IT budget, IT capability and managing the business of IT.  IT groups gradually move from one maturity level to the next and need different strategies at each level.

Managing the IT budget

The initial challenges are to get a handle on IT costs and budget and apply financial discipline of expense control as well as forecasting to ensur

Managing IT for Value

There are interrelated challenges of managing IT for business value (or contribution to business success), management of IT budget, IT capability and managing the business of IT.  IT groups gradually move from one maturity level to the next and need different strategies at each level.

Managing the IT budget

The initial challenges are to get a handle on IT costs and budget and apply financial discipline of expense control as well as forecasting to ensure that the budget is predictable. Many IT shops cannot forecast half-year or year-end expenses confidently. Executing the strategies for systematic cost reductions (e.g. demand management, SOE, adjusting service levels, BPR etc) is the next level of maturity. Optimising costs by adjusting refresh cycles or managing risk reward trade-offs is the final level of sophistication.

Managing the IT capability

IT capability is what IT can do for the business. Improving IT capability is about keeping up with the business demands and reducing the gap between demand and IT delivery. The IT capability stages of maturity are:
  • Technology provider – IT as an order-taker who can be counted upon to provide basic technologies and applications that the business requires.
  • Technical experts – IT as providers of technology services. IT is invited to provide technical inputs and expertise. Typically at this stage IT has limited business understanding.
  • Business partners – IT are included in developing business plans and solutions. IT has a good understanding of business and can engage with the business well. IT is proactive and is able to propose innovative solutions. However, the difficulty in going from good service providers to this level should not be under estimated. According to Bob Lewis, innovative CIOs are operating at this level. As Mazda CIO Jim Dimarzio writes in his CIO article, “Being in the room, however, did not automatically equate to involvement.” Jim had to develop the IT capability to effectively engage with the business and contribute to business processes and priorities.
  • Corporate core – IT is considered a core capability and a source of competitive advantage. IT has a track record of innovations that are a major source of competitive advantage.

Managing IT as a business and managing for value

I believe both these strategies are closely related. When IT is run effectively as a business it creates significant value.  The stages of maturity are:

  • Cost centre/cost focus – IT understands and manages the cost of the services well. Cost and quality of service are seen as important. Expenditure is controlled and technology life-cycle costs are considered in investment decisions.
  • Customer /benefits focus – The focus of IT engagement changes from cost to value or business benefits. Formal tools such as business case/Return on Investment (ROI) are used. Services are designed with customers’ needs in mind.
  • Portfolio approach – More sophisticated approaches are used to select investments using portfolio management and value management techniques. IT has effective measures of customer service. Mechanisms such as chargeback are used for fair distribution of IT costs and as a way of changing consumption patterns.
  • Value Centre – The organisation systematically optimises its value using portfolio management, risk trade-off and alignment with strategy. IT demonstrates a different mindset. IT has a strong stakeholder focus and is aligned to organisations’ value drivers where technology is seen as a tool rather than an end.

Conclusion

In closing, I quote Bob’s advice, “Don’t act like a separate business. Do the opposite — be the most internal of internal departments. Become so integrated into the enterprise that nobody would dream of working with anyone else.”

Building effective vendor partnerships

When companies announce technology deals both the company and the vendor are keen to describe the deal as a partnership and not a transaction.  This is because a partnership sounds more strategic. There is hope that this relationship between the company and the vendor can create some long-lasting value or mutual gain, but the reality soon bites. The relationship soon changes from a partnership to transacting, which often leads to bickering and disappointment. Papers regularly report stories of long-term sourcing or services partnerships that are not renewed or are cut down in size. This makes us wonder if the vendor partnership is simply just a myth. Continue reading “Building effective vendor partnerships”

Show me the money!

Introduction

The 2009 Standish research shows that only 32% of IT projects are successful. Which means that the new capability is successfully “installed”. But the sad reality is that in a large number of cases this new capability is not used the way it was intended. Thus only a fraction of the desired benefits (or value) are realised. So when the CEO says, “show me the money” or the value the CIO is often caught short.

There are many reasons for this failure.  There may be a lack of understanding about the true intent for the change. Competing agendas and conflicting priorities may dilute the focus. Then there is resistance from the people affected to adapt new behaviours and processes. A key reason is that organisations tend to put all the rigour and energy in the project “installation” and almost none for the benefits realisation post-installation.

Instead of the “installation” focus, the modern CIO needs to adopt a “realisation” or value mindset. With a realisation focus, CIOs ensure that project success is judged by the value created. This article suggests steps CIOs can take to instil a benefits management focus and show the “money”.

Executive Summary

Organisations are good at figuring out what must be done to address their business challenges and capture the opportunities. IT organisations are getting better at delivering technology capabilities to address these challenges. A lot of energy and capital is invested in developing these technology solutions. The plans appear sound. Why is it then that the outcomes fall significantly short of the original ambitions? In today’s markets, CIOs and other leaders cannot afford to spend large amounts of money and risk their reputation just deploying projects, when the success now depends on their ability to manage the change and actually getting the returns on investment (ROI).

Benefit realization mindset

Figure 1 – Realisation mindset

Getting a sustainable ROI requires carefully managing benefits realisation as well as managing the human aspects of the change. The benefits management process provides the framework for blended investment programs that integrate technological change, organisational change and business process design within a common context.

The purpose of the benefits management plan is to identify and organise all activities such that the promised benefits are achieved. It consists of benefits identification, benefits planning, monitoring, realisation and review. A realisation mindset guides the entire project/ program execution. Surveys show that organisations without well-defined benefits planning processes are significantly worse at getting project ROI.

All major changes require shifts in the way people (staff, suppliers, competitors and customers) think, manage and act. These changes will not just happen by themselves. They must be planned and carefully managed. The bigger the change, the larger is the impact and the disruption and resistance to the change.  If people don’t “buy-in”, the change is likely to fail.  In technology enabled changes there is a tendency to focus on the technology side of the project and under-estimate the human change dimension.

Keeping track of the “money”– Benefits Management Process

A benefits management plan is a critical tool for focussing the mind on the value.. It has five stages.

  • Benefit Identification is about clarity around the intent of the change. Benefits identification determines project scope.  The sponsors must be clear about what beneficial outcomes (or value) they want to obtain. Where the benefits will occur? When? Who will receive these? Who is responsible for the delivery of benefits? How the project outcomes link to the value?

Figure 2  – Benefits Management Process

  • Benefits planning stage covers all steps needed to leverage the project outcomes to realise the desired value. (E.g. The project may deliver new technology capability, people need to be trained, new processes and structures may need to be implemented, product/ service features need to be changed, new marketing programs may need to be devised.) In planning evaluate the organisation’s capability to execute and capacity to absorb the change. Also consider the various risks and capability to govern and support the change.
  • Benefits Monitoring covers many stages of the technology development / implementation process. It ensures that the benefits are not diminished during the project life cycle.
  • Benefits realisation should be performed from the time changes begin to be implemented right through to routine operations stage. It would indicate if more actions are necessary to realise the benefit or whether further benefits are achievable.
  • Benefits review captures on lessons learned.

Ten success factors for realising the value

  1. Active Sponsor – Effective management requires a single leader who is visibly committed to success and accountable for realising the benefits. Major changes need senior level executive leadership. Active leadership means selling ideas repeatedly and being there to overcome obstacles.  The sponsor should be accountable.
  2. Clear Intent – There must be clarity about the reasons for the change. What “pain” this initiative will address? How well do key people share the intent?  Is it aligned to the strategy? What would success look like? Is the “price to be paid (dollars, political, organisational)” justified? A lack of clear and shared intent at the beginning would invariably result in a weak or failed initiative.
  3. Business Case – There are many examples of weak business cases that have just sufficient funding for the technology solution. All the post implementation activities and resources are assumed to come from the “business as usual” budget. Without adequate funding and resources for change management in the business case, benefits realisation would be suboptimal.
  4. Full life-cycle governance  – In business changes are to be expected.  The business case will change when the circumstances change. At agreed project stages or upon discovering major variations, both the costs and benefits should be reassessed. If project costs are higher, ask if is it still viable? Should more benefits be found? Should the scope be reduced? Remember that the business benefits are the reason for the project and not technology installation.
  5. People – People are the greatest variable in a change. Systems are at times easier to change than people. Benefits realisation will depend on transforming the way people think and operate. Don’t underestimate the difficulties employees will have in learning to work with new systems that require new skills and new ways of thinking. Take the views of affected people into account early. Try and understand reasons for their resistance and develop action plans to address these. Align consequences and rewards with benefit realisation.
  6. Capacity for change – Do you really know your organisation’s capacity for change? Do you have executives who have a track record of leading the change? Are there are too many changes going on in the organisation? Be truthful with yourselves about what the capacity for change is and what is realistic and then plan accordingly.
  7. Relevant measurement – Measurements must clearly demonstrate how investments contribute to the beneficial outcomes. They must support decisions regarding progressive allocation of funding and resources via agreed “stage-gates”. Secondly, measurements help adjust the benefits path to changing environments. Techniques such as “results-chain” would help choose the right measurements.
  8. Clear accountability – Assign clear ownership to each of the measurable outcomes including project milestones and outcome measures.
  9. Independent governance – Importance of independent governance cannot be overstated. Investment governance board should ideally also monitor benefits realisation. This creates transparency around investment and the returns on investment, provides due diligence on the change initiative and holds sponsors accountable for the benefits. It also helps create peer pressure and reinforces good governance. Experience suggests leaving the entire governance to the sponsor alone is a mistake. Sponsors are known to downplay mistakes and to overstate success.
  10. Value Management Office (VMO) – A VMO serves two purposes; first it provides expert advice and tools to the sponsors for assessing value (validating business cases). Secondly, it helps monitor program progress, and provides rigorous value assessments to the investment governance board. A VMO, like a Project management office, would promote consistency in the approach as well as promoting transparency via reporting.

Benefits management is process is applicable to all initiatives and not just for technology. But changing the organisations mindset from installation to realisation is neither a quick nor an easy process. It requires an ongoing commitment from the top. This mindset enables a big picture view of capital investments and enhances ROI.

For more information on how to create a realisation mindset in your organisation please contact the author.

CIO role: A juggling act

CIO juggling act

In 2009 IBM published a study based on interviews of 2,500 CIOs from across the globe. They found:

“The voice of the CIO is being heard in new ways – as CIOs are increasingly recognized as full-fledged members of the senior executive team. Successful CIOs are much more actively engaged in setting strategy, enabling flexibility and change, and solving business problems, not just IT problems”.Many of the CIOs most important goals seemed to clash, e.g. how to be innovative whilst relentlessly cutting costs and how to introduce new services without causing disruption to the business.  These conflicting goals make the CIO role a constant juggling act.

The juggling act

The IBM study found that successful CIOs are simultaneously juggling three pairs of activities at any one time.

CIO juggling actFigure 1: The Juggling Act (IBM, 2009)

Juggling three roles

By integrating these three roles, visionary but pragmatist, value creator but cost-cutter and collaborative business leader and an inspiring IT leader; the CIO aims to :

      1. Make innovations real,
      2. Increase the ROI of IT and
      3. Expand the business impact.

Let’s look at each of these aims individually.

Making innovations real

Successful CIOs are active members of the executive team. They are always looking for ways in which technology and data can be used to improve products and services or open new market opportunities. They have a wide sphere of influence across the organisation and they encourage IT and business to co-create innovation opportunities. Visionaries also generate excitement from the business through ideas that differentiate the organization from others. They treat information as an asset and seek to leverage information for competitive advantage.

CIOs know that being visionaries and bringing new ideas is only part of the job. Keeping the wheels of the organisation turning smoothly and efficiently is a must. They recognise that faultless service delivery remains at the heart of their credibility and influence. Pragmatic CIOs understand what their organisations do well and effectively use third-party service providers to get results. They collaborate well within IT and with external partners to help make ideas a reality. These CIOs make it easy to work together and deliver results. To stretch as a Pragmatist, a CIO sets goals like achieving higher productivity and helping the organization become more flexible.

Raising ROI of IT

IBM found, “CIOs become Value Creators when they work with the business to enable superior customer experiences”. As more and more business is conducted via electronic means, customer interactions with business become easier and create value for the enterprise. Helping organisations leverage facts to gain new customer insights also leads to value creation opportunities. In some businesses, CIOs are leaders in establishing collaborative relationships with their high value customers / partners and finding ways to improve and enrich customer interactions.

While looking for new ways to create value, CIOs everywhere are continually finding ways to improve efficiency, streamline operations and cut costs where possible. Their mantra is to do more with less. CIOs drive centralisation of services and infrastructure to gain scale benefits. CIOs use standardisation, simplification and automation to cut more costs. Attacking business process inefficiencies and supporting IT solutions is another focus. Relentlessly focusing on cost cutting enables the CIOs to redeploy their departments’ efforts into creating more value opportunities.

Expanding the business impact

Successful CIOs act as true business partners. They work as collaborative business leaders in driving cultural change across organisations. “I help business leaders figure out what they want to do with technology, then I work on how to deliver it,” said a Defence and Security CIO in the United States. CIOs regularly meet with the board and executives and are fully across key business decisions and challenges. They understand changing future business models and remain alert to rapidly facilitating business model changes with enabling technology.

CIOs understand that while remaining engaged with the business leadership is important, maintaining IT expertise is also critical. They create an environment that helps the organisation to develop and apply IT expertise. CIOs encourage professional staff to learn and develop not only their IT skills but also their business acumen. Furthermore, many CIOs create IT centres of excellence to develop greater IT expertise. These centres can also create business technology innovation opportunities.

CIO profiles in high-growth and low-growth organizations differ

The 2009 IBM CIO study found that the profiles of CIOs who work in low-growth organisations were more like those of  IT Managers. They were good at leading  IT staff but weak in five other areas. On the other hand, CIOs in medium growth companies had a well-balanced profile across all six dimensions. High-growth company CIO profiles showed less emphasis on IT leadership skills but higher scores on every other dimension.

  1. An Insightful Visionary and an Able Pragmatist – The Insightful Visionary helps the business explore how technology can drive innovation, while the Able Pragmatist makes it possible to bring creative plans to life.
  2. A Savvy Value Creator and a Relentless Cost Cutter – The Savvy Value Creator devises better solutions by understanding customers’ needs, while the Relentless Cost Cutter stays vigilant about trimming expenses wherever possible.
  3. A Collaborative Business Leader and an Inspiring IT Manager – The Collaborative Business Leader thoroughly understands the business and builds strong partnerships internally and externally. The Inspiring IT Manager demonstrates personal IT expertise and advocates deeper skills across the IT organization.

Let’s look at these in detail.

A dozen tips for success

Not every CIO is strong on each one of the six dimensions above. The experiences of over 2,500 CIOs worldwide suggested some key actions to strengthen the areas where CIOs may not be doing enough.

Make innovation real:

  1. Champion business and technology integration
  2. Encourage innovation not just in the IT organization but in the broader group as well
  3. Make working together with IT easy
  4. Concentrate on core competencies and leverage suppliers where right

Raise the ROI of IT:

  1. Find way to reach customers in new ways
  2. Enhance integration between IT and business and transparency
  3. Standardize and centralize IT systems and technologies to economize
  4. Keep cost reduction a top priority.

Increase the business impact:

  1. Know the business well.  Present and measure IT in business terms
  2. Get involved with business peers in non-IT projects
  3. Lead the IT forces and cultivate truly extraordinary IT talent
  4. Enhance the data and turn it into usable information for the business

The balancing act

Many CIOs understand the balancing act necessary in their roles and work with goals that seem to be the opposite of each other. In doing so, they show a deep understanding of their role as CIOs and a high level of sophistication. Consequently, these CIOs are able to focus on what matters most in their organisations.

Happy juggling!!

Unlocking value from the applications portfolio

Application analysis

Introduction

In today’s IT dependent world organisations have accumulated an array of applications from the modern to the ancient. Successive mergers and acquisitions have further added to the inventory. What’s more, because they accumulated over time, these IT portfolios are often patchy, redundant and lacking proper management oversight. The resulting IT portfolio has become complex and difficult to manage. According to reports, almost 70% of the IT budget is consumed by sustaining business-as-usual activities. When CIO’s are increasingly being asked to ‘do more with less’, it is necessary to optimise the IT portfolio.

Increasingly executives are using Portfolio Management method to tackle this challenge. IT portfolio management concept is not dissimilar to managing financial assets. In both, the aim is to collect data on the assets to be able to enhance returns and reduce risks. There are two types of IT portfolios, namely, IT asset portfolio and IT projects portfolio. Although the principles of portfolio management are similar there is great deal of difference in the processes used.

Within the IT Assets portfolio, we believe managing the application assets has the greatest upside. In this paper summarises benefits of Applications Portfolio Management and key learning from my experience in implementing APM.

Executive Summary

Organisations are using Applications Portfolio Management (APM) to make rational decisions about reducing the cost of application ownership, improving the functionality and the strategic alignment and reducing portfolio risks. The reason for the rapid growth in the use of APM is that organisations have achieved successes in cost reduction, managing the complexities of hundreds of established assets, and improving budget effectiveness.

Application Portfolio Management is a periodic fact-based assessment of organisations applications. Determining which applications receive same, lower, or increased levels of funding optimizes portfolios over time. The assessment helps refine application management practices, namely, which applications to cut, which to keep, which to renovate. The focus is to make sure that the business value and ownership costs are appropriately aligned and the portfolio is streamlined by rationalizing duplicate or obsolete applications. Over time, the applications portfolios as a whole should show the greatest business value and closest architectural fit with the lowest costs and risks.

APM generally consists of the following elements:

  • Applications Inventory – Identify and catalogue what applications you have and what they do and how much they cost.
  • Applications Assessment – Assess applications in terms of business value, alignment with strategy, technical architecture or standards and cost and ability to support. Identifying cost saving opportunities via removing duplication or overlaps.
  • Recommendations and Roadmaps – Develop changes to the application management strategies and create potential application transformation initiatives or roadmaps. The goal is to get prioritised action plans for tailoring maintenance spending, rationalising or migrating applications and addressing health risks.
  • Portfolio Governance – Assign responsibility for governance including managing the repository and tracking recommendations. Track and communicate the benefits.

Application portfolio management

Figure 1 – Applications portfolio management lifecycle

APM Implementation

APM implementation does not have to be too complex. The focus is on the big picture and identifying aspects that stand out from the norm. First step is the application inventory. Business users, IT support staff, IT architects and IT Managers take part in the data gathering stages. In the second step, gather data on operational performance, fit with the architecture or standards and the known vulnerabilities. This begins to find applications that need further attention. Next step is to analyse the application cost data and compare it with business value from other similar applications. Applications with too high costs or too low costs need further analysis. Final step in the process is to develop recommendations and migration scenarios, engage stakeholders in priority setting and begin detailed business cases for the selected roadmaps.

Where there are many application managers (e.g. in a federated structure), it would be ideal to assign responsibility to a central function such as Head of Architecture for creating uniform application inventory and assessment processes. A common repository would help the identification of duplicate applications across the entire organisation.

Benefits of Application Portfolio Management

APM benefits over time

  • APM improves the understanding of the applications so they can be managed effectively.
  • It helps track and communicate the technical and business health of applications to show problems and take advantage of opportunities.
  • With APM organisations can better align the applications portfolio to the business strategies and the technical architecture, thus improving business value over time.
  • Looking at how the portfolio supports key business processes, creates opportunities to remove the complexities and streamline support.

Over time APM enables focus to shift from application health and costs, to flexibility and responsiveness and ultimately to competitive advantage. By evolving applications in a planned and methodical way, organisations can maximise returns on their existing investments while making steady progress towards a stronger applications environment.

Tips for effective application portfolio management

  1. Executive Sponsor: Project must have sponsorship from the CIO or the Head of Applications. Proper understanding their goals and constraints ensures that the last recommendations can be acted upon.
  2. Engage Business: APM gives an excellent opportunity to tell and engage the business executives. Obtain business value and functional quality data from the real users and owners. Their support is critical for decisions to rationalise the duplicate applications or to adjust maintenance levels.
  3. Be pragmatic: In the first iteration, focus on applications that account for bulk of the costs and business support.  Similarly, in data gathering focus on few important attributes and costs. Where exact data is not available stake-holder/ user surveys can be used.
  4. APM tools: Spreadsheets may be used to record the inventory data. There are a number of third-party tools, which can help manage the applications inventory and the associated information such as costs, business value and risks. Tools would be of benefit for large portfolios and especially to keep inventory up-to-date.
  5. Source code analysis tools: These tools will help analyse the source code of applications and give information about the function points, complexity, etc. This data is valuable for understanding the reasons for complexity and the maintenance cost.
  6.  Assessment: Assessment typically covers business, technical, financial and operational perspectives. The typical questions are:
    1. Business: How well applications support the business process? What synergies we could achieve?
    2. Technical: Are the applications scalable/ extendable/ adaptable/ supportable? Do they fit the architecture?
    3. Financial: Do the applications cost too much to run? Why?  How can costs be reduced?
    4. Operational: Are the applications sustainable? What are the key vulnerabilities? Is the support infrastructure too complex? Can we find the right skills for support?
  7. Analysis: Looking at the data using a variety of criteria from business, technology, operations and financial perspectives would highlight  ‘anomalies’ and areas for actions.  Using a combination of factors would highlight anomalies, such as, if two applications are similar complexity and size but one has high costs, indicates an issue. Some solutions will become obvious when you see the problem, e.g. 17 versions of warehousing applications.
  8. Trend is your friend: Collecting cost and performance trends over time can give you richer insights than just point in time data. 18-24 months data would begin to yield useful information.
  9. Applications portfolio: Typically the assessment results would group each application in one of the four categories. These are Invest, Divest, Re-engineer and Tolerate.Application analysis
    1. Invest – These are applications of high business value and good technical quality
    2. Divest – Low value/ low quality or duplicate applications.
    3. Re-engineer – High business value but low quality applications are candidates for modernisation.
    4. Tolerate – High technical quality but low business value applications are possible candidates for cost reduction.
  10. Ongoing governance: Treating APM as a one time activity is a mistake. Any short-term gains would soon be lost. Assign responsibility for governance and ensuring inventories are regularly updated and assessed and recommendations are followed through. Establish key metrics and scorecards to check progress of the initiatives. Track and publish the benefits.
  11. Link with Enterprise Architecture: APM inventory provides data for the current state and recommendations should be aligned with the Enterprise architecture ‘desired end-state’. Application roadmaps create the migration path between these two states.
  12. Communicate the results:  Widely communicate the logic of the recommendations. Use the application roadmaps with the results of the assessment to tell business executives about the issues/ risks and various choices. This will result in a stronger business agreement.

If you would like further information or help please contact Kogekar Consulting.