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Whittle down application sprawl

Sandra Gittlen | March 7, 2014
When it comes to shutting down out-of-date, risky or unnecessary applications, James Gordon, vice president of technology and operations at Needham Bank, doesn't mess around.

The best way to ensure an optimal application portfolio is to not let it get out of control in the first place. But for some, that ship has already sailed.

Application sprawl occurs for many reasons, including mergers and acquisitions and siloed business lines purchasing their own software, according to Ramana Reddy Depa, CTO of KillerIT, a division of Forsythe Solutions Group that sells asset-management software. "When businesses are doing well, there isn't much focus on normalizing or reducing applications."

Yet, Depa observed through his work with Fortune 50 companies that issues such as functional redundancy run rampant. Out of 100 applications in an organization, 30 to 35 have some form of redundancy, he says.

The traditional first step is to gather a comprehensive inventory of applications in use and dormant. Really useful application inventories, Depa says, dig deep and gather data about all applications that exist in the environment and the infrastructure they rely on.

There is no shortage of software available to capture data about each application, including licensing, versions, usage and location. Microsoft, CDW, Lansweeper, Quest, Riverbed and Spiceworks all have products available.

But, as Depa warns, application inventories require time and effort. One midsize company he consulted with went into the application audit thinking they had 400 applications, only to find 130 more in use across the organization.

The business case
As recently as three years ago, the First Church of Christ, Scientist had a pool of 1,500 end-user developed applications for its 550 users. The organization, which is both a church and publishing society, suffered from severe departmental data silos, according to CIO Curt Edge.

Each department used a different application to store its member data and handle subscriptions, fulfillment and finances, causing wasteful redundancies in applications and data storage. The broad application portfolio also drained IT resources during a time of cutbacks, Edge says. The organization had 400 servers on site — most with only one application on each. "We were spending 90% of our IT budget on system maintenance and 10% on the business," he says.

Edge faced not only internal budget heat, but also industry pressure to comply with the then newly released Payment Card Industry standard. "There was no way we could follow the requirement of security patches within 30 days with the limited staff we had. We just didn't have the horsepower," Edge says.

That's when he took the drastic step of consolidating all redundant, out-of-date and inefficient systems and moved them to the cloud. For instance, he got rid of Microsoft Exchange and Office in favor of Google Apps' Gmail and Google Docs. He eliminated department-level programs such as FileMaker that kept data in siloes and signed on to Salesforce.com.

 

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