Application Convergence – What, Why, Who and How?

More then ever the businesses are getting automated and enabled using IT solutions. Every part of the organisation are dependent on one of more IT solutions, some in house and some bought from the market. The IT solutions are made with the need for enabling the business and often leaving the useful ones rest are forgotten and left as legacy/archives to be referred only when needed.

With fast changing business needs applications are created, used and left even faster then we all could think about. Day in and day out business creates document libraries, project team rooms, intranets and a lot more. Over years this turns out to be a huge mess and close to unmanageable. The result is higher maintenance and infrastructure costs. Legacy / archive appls, as they are hardly used result in Loss of knowledge.

In the era of acquisitions and disentanglements to speed up innovation and change business directions, its even more essential to ensure companies have defined and controlled solution catalogue which is well managed and serviced.

For MNCs this is extremely essential as MNCs have multiple office locations, the applications appear like mushrooms in those locations and then grow into a huge architectural and landscape mess to manage and maintain. The issue starts with slight differences in global and local process and document needs. Ones allowed localize the changes continue one after another leading into a fully customized monster application and that too not just in one location but many. The result is enormous costs to maintain, control and change business applications and processes.

Application convergence can be addressed by addressing the following in order mentioned,

Bottom Up Dos

  1. Ensure the As is application portfolio is clearly documented with ownership from IT and business
  2. Collect relevant solution changes and yearly maintenance costs to ensure full visibility
  3. Get the collected data well categorized by business process, functions, platforms, location etc.
  4. Create some data analysis and reports showing number of applications in different dimensions of the categories to be able to see the duplicates, expenditure and other information useful to make decisions.
  5. Ensure the 1st hand bottom up approach analysis and output is shared with the top management and local businesses alike in condensed and relevant manner.
  6. Identify the champions that helped in bottom up approach and they should be used for the application convergence activities going forwards.
  7. Identify the road blockers and how they can be kept in control or convinced that application convergence is good for the whole organisation
  8. Ensure during the whole process that current business and activities are not affected as they will create –ve publicity and barriers for progress

Top Down Dos

  1. At the company level define the Application convergence initiative ensuring full business buy in and management support throughout the organisation
  2. Adapt an Enterprise wide architecture framework (like TOGAF, Zachman, DoDAF etc.)
  3. Start with the Business process layer to define the core business processes. Ensure core functions, business processes are well documented and have clear global ownership.
  4. Short list and select the required architecture and portfolio management tooling as these would be needed for ongoing use, structure, control and management.
  5. Business process by business process start harmonizing the processes and select the best solutions from existing ones or new ones (from the market or built in house)
  6. Focus on quick wins by choosing the valuable but easy transitioned business processes and start filling up the solution catalogue with global solutions. This also means start closing down by transitioning old solution towards new ones and launching them as one global solution
  7. Focus on clean ups that can aid to reduce the infrastructure and maintenance costs and hence result in better use of resources across organization
  8. All new business demands should fit in to new way of working with only one solution at company level.

Another important point to keep in mind is Application convergence in MNCs could take from up to 1 to 5 years although a lot will be achieved in 2 years while the complex applications convergence would require a lot of time and efforts and proper strategic planning to make it happen with business change.

If the above is done in write order with proper management support and control then it ideally should lead to globalised solutions which if made with agile and service oriented architecture would result in agility to cope with business process and tools changes done fast enough and efficiently across the organisation. On the other hand running application convergence will lead to whole IT landscape clean up and steam lining ideally resulting in savings.

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The Future of Applications

IT is increasingly seen as an essential business enabler as well as value creator + competitive advantage creator. In doing so one of the most important service blocks of IT is applications life cycle management. Within application life cycle management the IT divisions generally use various frameworks and technology platforms to achieve the desired results. The well known ones are,

  1. Rational Unified Process (RUP) for requirements management
  2. PRINCE2 / PM BOK for project management
  3. ITIL for service management
  4. Waterfall method for application SDLC
  5. Agile development for agile way of applications management
  6. SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) for modular/component development and making them available as loosely coupled to be used as service

In the area of technology platform there is a vast list. Some of the heavily used ones are,

  1. Microsoft .Net
  2. Android
  3. Apple iOS
  4. Java/J2EE
  5. MS SQL/MY SQL
  6. Oracle
  7. Many more…

On the other side we have seen the increase is standard out of box applications that we use day in and day out to get our daily activities done. A few examples of the same are,

  1. Microsoft Office Suite
  2. SAP (with needed customizations)
  3. Microsoft Sharepoint
  4. CA Clarity Tool
  5. HP Open View Service Desk Tool
  6. Many more…

The latest trend shows a start in applications turning more and more out of the box for day 2 day activities and collaboration needs. More and more business starting with individuals, small & medium enterprises are going towards using standard out of the box applications to keep their appls maintenance and development costs under control. The MNCs (Multi Nationals) have started moving towards the same for the so called Utility applications.

The advantages seen in using standard out of the box applications are,

  1. No internal development and maintenance team required
  2. The standard functionality ensures easy upgrades and updates
  3. Market standards are adhered to much easily
  4. License costs benefits due to volume
  5. Easier user training with standard vendor provided training materials
  6. Easier acquisition on boarding to One company standard appls

The disadvantages to be handled are,

  1. The standard appls vendor’s existence in market. If the vendor is small can be easily take over/go bankrupt
  2. No control over how fast the issues & changes reported will be resolved and in which release
  3. Very tight control on changes/customizations, all has to be within the boundary of what the standard appls environment allows
  4. License costs year over year can increase/ License model can change for major releases
  5. Data migration from other systems to standard systems could be very time consuming, complex and costly

The applications future continues to evolve and we already see many businesses moving in the standard out of the box applications for their day to day activities and collaboration needs. It is slowly moving towards adaptation of “Software as a Service”, pay for use model.