Are You Ready for the APP-ocalypse?

Sep 24 · 4 min read

When was the last time you conducted a comprehensive inventory of every application in your company’s software stack?

Maybe it’s long since secured a bullet point on your admin team’s standing agenda; or maybe you’ve been pushing this minutiae-heavy maintenance exercise to the proverbial back burner for longer than you’d care to admit. Some of you are likely in the trenches of this painstaking undertaking as you read these very words; others are itching to begin their application audit after it recently topped their shortlist of near-term operational priorities.

And all of us, we suspect, have seen our best intentions stifled or sidelined to some extent by the more urgent stressors of this past-ahem-year.

No matter which scenario best describes your organization’s approach to digital housekeeping, even the coolest heads among us will pursue such prolonged tedium with equal parts courage and cringe.

Imagine your software stack as an untended garage, a cluttered basement, or a forgotten bottom drawer. How quick are we to commiserate over the challenge of these complex household chores? The current app-ocalypse isn’t much different. What we’re experiencing has been a long time coming, thundering at the horizon after a heated period of particularly dramatic software stack growth.

We’re not just swapping stories with our sister software nerds here. At Theorem, we’ve said it before and we’re always ready to restate it: “In today’s corporate environment, all companies are becoming software companies.” (Or, as Andreesen Horowitz puts it: “Software is eating the world.”) The app explosion of the past several years is very real, statistically remarkable, and requires a reaction plan for enterprises and strategic leaders in every sector of our global economy.

According to Okta’s 7th annual Businesses at Work, the typical software environment in 2021 runs an average of 88 applications.

  • Large firms (with 2K+ employees) on average run almost twice that, with ~175 applications;
  • Smaller enterprises (>2K employees) face similar struggles, on a slightly smaller scale, at ~73.

Still not convinced? Well, consider where you were just over two years ago-when The Wall Street Journal rushed to respond to news that enterprise app deployment surged by a whopping 68% between 2015 and 2019. It’s truly no surprise that we’re struggling to strategize while neck-deep in a strong, steady current.

What goes wrong when apps abound?

At Theorem, we call it “love bloat.”

No need to be bashful about it: Every business (yes, including yours) is susceptible to symptoms of what we call “love bloat,” a phenomenon that pervades unchecked app deployment over time and ultimately threatens your bottom-line.

“Love bloat” and its stubborn side effects can play out in many ways, depending on scope and severity.

For now, let’s focus on today’s typical software stack at a mid-sized firm we’ll call Enterprise X. At 88 apps deep, let’s also assume Enterprise X has built this stack with great care, collaborative vetting, and due diligence at every step. Enterprise X’s decision-making process for choosing new software has been polished and perfected. Every new piece of technology was researched and vetted to meet a well-established need. On the verge of choosing their 89th app, the runway for this latest Enterprise X deployment appears calm and clear.

  1. The new App Z will solve a real issue.
  2. App Z doesn’t have too steep of a learning curve.
  3. The procurement team’s conservative CTO model projects App Z will also save Enterprise X $$$.

As compelling as the path to A to B to C may be…there’s actually a lot that lurks between the lines of these deceptively simple criteria. The reality is-no matter how disciplined you’ve been while deciding on each app that you’ve added to your stack-those value assessments occurred at distinct moments in the past that have in fact passed. New problems always emerge over the course of growing a software stack of any size, and they can (and indeed will) threaten your present and future organizational goals.

We think “love bloat” is a catchy way to describe how a long series of good ( loving, even!) decisions can actually destroy your productivity.

‍”Application rationalization” to the rescue?

Application rationalization (AKA “app rat”) is an invaluable and supportive scaffold for assessing even the most complex software stacks. There are many ways to define what “app rat” entails, but at its core it means that each and every application that an enterprise runs needs to be examined individually to rationalize (or defend) its continued use. Is it still working the way it did when it was first adopted? Does it need to be upgraded, or better integrated with apps that came along after? Has it become redundant? Or does it need to be replaced? Perhaps retired altogether?

Ideally, a systemic organization-wide “app rat” review would happen at regular intervals, though it’s easy to overlook or push to the back burner. That’s why it’s a key part of the discovery phase of every strategic engagement we take on at Theorem.

You don’t have to go it alone.

With almost 15 years’ of “app rat” under our belt, you really don’t need to face the app-ocalypse alone-we’re always here to help. Contact Theorem today for an experienced partner in charting your company’s course to app stack domination.

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