Is Your App Portfolio Killing Your Data?

We continue our deep dive series on Enterprise Stewardship — The Key to Digital Intelligence. In this article we focus on the enterprise data factory — your application portfolio.

Courtesy Brad Hawes Photography

If you subscribe to the notion that business capabilities are the foundation of the enterprise, it stands to reason that data becomes the capstone for each capability. Building upon our viewpoint that business and data parity are table stakes for transformation, and you then add the concept of mapping data to a business capability model, it becomes easier to understand that the details abound in the data lifecycle — its origin and transformation. This is the domain of Applications.

The enterprise is a notorious junk collector for legacy applications. This is partly as a byproduct (or hangover) from the CapEx/OpEx days, but it is also partly due to the fact that many of the folks who wanted or invested in those legacy apps are no longer at the company. Often, there are few people who really know what to do with those old apps, or what the impact of any change would be as a result of ripping them out. This leads to significant ‘ technical debt’. This technical burden results when project teams prioritize expedited delivery or lower costs over quality, or when leaders defer much needed investments or upgrades to funnel resources to other efforts. These factors play a significant role in the quality of enterprise data, often introducing critical quality, usability or integration issues.

If you want better data, you really need to understand the health of your application portfolio; it may be putting your success (and your data) at risk.

A lot of very talented people have spent a great deal of time and effort to understand how to harness data in the enterprise (present company included). It’s a continuing challenge, and for too long has been delegated to Information Technology teams. For Enterprise Stewardship to flourish, this can no longer be placed at the feet of the CIO. Business capability and functional leaders must own their data, along with effective strategies for governing and managing the quality and freshness. To do otherwise might even be considered negligent.

But how can leaders enable their teams to become better stewards? Better Data Advisors use a simple, yet effective 3 step process to get you there:

Figure 1: App Portfolio Triage

Like any good triage method, you will want to understand what you’re dealing with before making any decisions. Application Discovery can be simplified to creating an application inventory, as we see in step one (Figure 1). Once you’ve quantified your portfolio, you’ll need to take stock of your portfolios efficacy. Only then, armed with a qualitative analysis, will you be able to chart a course to manage the portfolio up or down. This will be done using your data management, governance and quality levers. The BCM that we outlined in previous chapters becomes the perfect canvas to capture the app-to-capability alignment.

Start by having business stewards inventory all of the applications and systems (often synonymous) that support their corresponding functions in day to day business operations. A simple classification mechanism will help to streamline the analysis: Functional or departmental apps should be easy to list. However, it’s probable that they’re going to identify several cross-functional apps as well. As critical data moves through the organization and the myriad of applications and business processes, this later classification may require a determination of who should own the app. In the event that multiple domains are served, such as Customer or Product for examples, it makes perfect sense to assign the core stewardship model or even sometimes split the difference. In the case of Product, for example, we may default to the Product Capability vs. Manufacturing. Similarly, Customer may fall to Sales before Marketing.

Don’t forget ‘shadow IT’ — there are likely departmental apps in the SaaS sphere IT doesn’t know about…

Once you’ve developed a reasonable software inventory, the next step will be to associate applications with the business capability areas that they serve. Use the same Business Capability Model that we discussed in chapter 3. You may want to leverage the CIO here, as a good IT team will be able to provide you with an inventory, often from systems such as CMDB platforms. Most CIOs will be delighted to assist you in your stewardship journey.

As with most of our guidance, don’t get wrapped around the axle on being exact. Use the old paradigm that “perfection is the enemy of the good” and focus on targeting primary BCM elements such as the first and second levels in the BCM. Simple tools like a spreadsheet can render amazing results.

OK. So knowing that you know what you have, it’s time to understand what you think about it. The good news here is that people love to share their opinions about things. While many people will say what’s good about an asset, it seems there’s never a problem getting feedback on what’s wrong with one. It’s human nature. Harness this. If you really want to know what your organization thinks about the apps and corresponding data quality, you will need to survey the business and technical stewards. A great way to capture feedback is to interview key stakeholders, or develop surveys for each inventory item that teams can fill out at their own pace. Be sure to structure the questions so as too illicit an app’s strength and/or weakness.

You’re going to love the results. Survey data and scores give you what we call an adoption profile. It’s an average of the scoring for business value and technical sustainability. It is this weighting that will allow you to make decisions on your portfolio investments. We can correlate high business value score to quality data. Business users have a tendency to be bullish on apps that surface valuable information. Generally speaking, applications fall into three categories. There are those that add high business value and relatively low cost; many SaaS apps fall in here. Then there’s the opposite: applications that have high operating costs but provide low business value. You’ll want to exit those as soon as you can.

Adoption Profiling is a technique developed by Better Data Advisors to help our customers understand the relevance of their tech spend. It’s a great tool for stakeholders including CFOs, CDOs and CIOs

Once you’ve mapped the data and the efficacy of the individual applications as it relates to data quality, you’ll find yourself with a much improved view of the app portfolio health, and the ability of your applications to provide high quality and timely data. This, of course, leads to improved strategy and effective data management. Happy discovery…

The scope of this article is to get you thinking about how best to focus on the contribution your apps play in your company’s (or capability) overall data value. Advanced Application Portfolio Management is a deep subject in its entirety, and likely another blog for another day.

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