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October 10, 2012

Is your Apps Ecosystem an Elephantine Challenge?

Posted by Suryaprakash K. (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:52 AM

In the wild, elephants play a critical role - come floods or drought.  When there is excessive rainfall,  elephant-paths create drainage trenches for the gushing waters. During dry summers, these same elephants dig up much-needed waterholes in dry riverbeds. Those leading the technology organization, for global enterprises, often subscribe to this "elephant philosophy"; Even as they maintain a vast and varied portfolio of applications, running seamlessly, they look to create 'trenches' to divert technology support exactly into those areas that business needs it most.  On the other hand, when the application environment is fragmented - not unlike a drought situation - they seek to dig-up 'common reservoirs of resources'  to leverage savings.

CIOs continue to strive to deliver on a dual agenda - improved effectiveness and greater savings, even as they deal with the increased clamor from business for technology to collaborate across several new fronts.  Some CIOs are unbundling the application portfolio, from centralized support models, to create line of business-specific alignment and work closely with business, whilst others seek to move to a shared services model to streamline operations and extract untapped savings.

The additional complexity comes from the business side as they demand to be empowered to tap into new opportunities that only technology can enable. For example, think of an enterprise's expansion into emerging markets. They'd require technology solutions to fill those large institutional voids. Or consider a specialty retailer trying to engage a 20 something audience. They'd need it all - the complete So-Lo-Mo package (Social, Local and Mobility technologies).

And, this is no simple challenge. Because:
• Legacy mainframe applications continue to drive business rules, and yet must connect out of the enterprise to leverage platforms-as-a-service
• The same business rules must be extracted if the enterprise chooses to standardize any of its functions like HR or finance
• In that rush for cost savings, service integration has probably taken a hit. Same cost, same operational model and many partners have led to more issues than resolution. ( I have seen instances where 5 tickets are raised for the same issue as different lines of business are supported by different partners, different systems!)

Apps in production still run the business. They continue to be supported and continue to deliver value. They are here to stay for some more time. And you need a framework to manage it all effectively. Here's a 4-pronged strategy that's working for several of our clients:
• Execute better - Forget cost for a minute. Focus on service integration, focus on improvement of methods to get better first-time call resolutions. Improve the SLA, improve the mean time between failures and most importantly improve responsiveness to business.
• De-risk the transition between vendor partners - Look for models where code quality and reverse engineering are leveraged by your vendor partner. Look for options where key personnel are rebadged, and contracts are simple to execute or withdraw.
• Reduce cost to serve - While this has been used as ammunition for long, don't just look for upfront savings - look for continued savings that are sustained by engineering.  Ask yourself these very important questions. Are the applications more productive? (For example, generate fewer tickets, better code quality and such like) Are the redundant apps retired? Are common services grouped into Centers of Excellence or shared desks?  Remember, the applications stay with you even after the vendor is gone. If these apps run effectively in the last year of the contract, your next rebid will be at least 20% cheaper.
Serve your business better - Many ideas abound, and today IT is challenged in newer ways by business. Look for options, like hubs in Latin America,  to support your local business. Look for deep domain and vertical expertise in your vendor partner to help drive ideas such as reduced markdown or improved truck load optimization.  Look for technology expertise that can help you mobile-enable your enterprise. Look for partners who can help connect your applications to the Cloud and other cost-saving virtualization forms.

Really, when it comes to managing the apps environment, there are so many things along several dimensions to consider. And, about that "elephant philosophy" all I can say is - it takes multifaceted strategies and action to get the apps jungle to truly deliver.

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