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Application Portfolio Management: A quick win today or a crisis tomorrow

It’s highly likely that Application Portfolio Management (APM) isn’t at the top of your to-do list. It may not even be on your list anymore, pushed off to accommodate the ever-increasing number of more urgent issues that keep getting thrown your way.

The problem is, if neglected too long, the health of your application portfolio could become your most urgent issue. Without effective management, application portfolios will evolve to be inflexible and overly complex, leaving you to deal with huge technical and functional debts, a plethora of unsupported technologies, vendor conflicts, mounting security vulnerabilities, and, of course, all the extra associated costs. 

If you get to this point, none of your options will be particularly appealing. A small-scale, piece-meal approach targeting only your most critical issues will likely provide limited value for a short duration. On the other hand, depending on the age and complexity of your technology stack, a large-scale application portfolio optimisation program at this late stage could take years, cost millions, and have significant impacts on upstream and downstream business critical applications.

Additionally, many companies who choose this pathway find that even if their program is successfully completed, long-term value realisation continues to elude them as the underlying structural and governance issues remain within their portfolios. 

Ultimately, after spending significant time, energy and money reviewing and remediating their application portfolios, many organisations find themselves back in the same situation again and again. Getting stuck in this endless catchup loop prevents operational progress, stifles strategy and innovation, demoralises your team, and hurts your bottom line. 

However, there is a way to extricate yourself from this cycle.

A comprehensive, continuous, iterative and proactive approach to APM will enable you to harness synergies across people, process and technology, increase your organisational agility, and mitigate operational and enterprise risk. 

What does this actually mean? Well, imagine for a moment you’re moving house. If you’ve never really bothered to clean out your garage or cupboards before now, it’s going to be a huge task and you’re likely to discover multiples of items you long thought were lost and so repurchased; items that neither you, nor anyone in your family, recognise in any way, shape or form; and items that have been damaged through poor storage and pest infiltration.

Now, if instead you’d committed to an annual spring clean, the situation you’d be facing would be much improved – there’d be less effort needed and less waste. However, you’d still encounter similar issues, particularly if you needed to access something specific and quickly – such as your suit for an important impromptu meeting in-office after a long period working from home, only to find it no longer fits. Thus, the most effective way to manage your home is through developing and implementing a holistic routine of small, continuous acts of maintenance, and the same can be said of managing your application portfolio.

This type of APM approach begins with the development of a robust framework which incorporates business capability modelling to identify functional redundancies, an effective APM tool for management of your asset repository, and strong, ongoing IT standards management and governance practices. This framework is then best operationalised through an APM Office, the stand-up of which we have found to be a simple and low-cost exercise which can quickly yield substantial value through the application of targeted and sustained effort throughout both the operational and strategic layers of your organisation.

An additional benefit of such an APM approach is its scalability. You can still realise significant benefits by starting small and focusing on a subset of your portfolio, gradually expanding as resourcing allows. No matter the size of the implementation, the key to success is embedding the right mentality – that of continuous monitoring and continuous improvement – throughout the organisation. 

While you may have been able to sufficiently manage application portfolio issues and risks through BAU or small-scale initiatives in the past, times are changing. The ballooning sizes of current application portfolios, combined with rapidly expanding and evolving customer and business needs, and the transforming global IT landscape – including an exponential increase in the amount of cyber attacks – have created a perfect storm of conditions which require decisive action. Proactive, ongoing APM is no longer simply best practice or a “nice to have” – it’s an essential investment. Fortunately, it’s also cost-effective and relatively simple to implement, so be sure to add it to the top of the “quick wins” section of your to-do list.