Why Application Portfolio Management Should be a Top Priority in 2021

Article Contribution

The sudden shift to remote work in 2020 forced many organizations to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives to support new world of work. In doing so, most rushed to implement new architectures, systems and processes—some of which might not meet the typical expectations for thoroughness and consequently risk jeopardizing business continuity in the long term.   

Before organizations embark on any more change projects in 2021—whether on the business or IT side of the organization—they must first gain control of their investments through proper application portfolio management (APM). That’s because, by layering new (and maybe even unnecessary) systems on top of suboptimal ones, organizations may sabotage the initiatives before they’ve even launchedInstead, business leaders can enlist enterprise architects (EAs) to lead the charge on strategic APM, securing them better control of the outcomes of their investments, thereby maximizing those investments’ value to the business processes and people dependent on them. 

Here are the best practices for APM, including the questions EAs should be asking themselves during the process: 

Start with a thorough assessment of existing applications 

So that they don’t sabotage the outcomes of their change projects, organizations must start with as stable an IT foundation as possible, which requires understanding how their applications engage with one another and if they are doing so efficiently. This begins with simply uncovering which applications the organization uses and determining which organizational needs they fulfill.  

While taking stock may sound trivial, articulating the function of each application can help EAs understand if those tools are still serving relevant business needs, and confirm that they aren’t duplicating any functionalities with new investments. Likewise, EAs may recognize existing applications that are underutilized but that can be leveraged to drive more value towards the business’ objectives. When it comes to an organization’s applications, EAs should take a quality over quantity approach, as its better to have a tighter, more manageable roster of applications that map directly to a company’s unique goals than numerous tools that promise generalized business results. Once EAs have a thorough understanding of how existing applications are performing in relation to their business needs—and, importantly, the areas their organizations still need support in—they can more easily identify where modernization may deliver better performance, as well as improved customer satisfaction and differentiation. 

Upon reviewing their organization’s application portfolios, EAs may find that not all programs serve current business goals, or that there are opportunities for cost realizationConsidering how many companies have adopted new software or duplicated existing accounts to support remote work and increased business demands in 2020, there may be an opportunity now to eliminate any redundant or unnecessary apps. However, removing applications without understanding how many employees use them or how they interact with other systems may jeopardize the organization’s ecosystem. That’s why EAs must also assess which roles are dependent on these applications in order to mitigate disruption to workflows and/or any losses in data. Gaining a shared understanding of how employees and applications interconnect not only enables EAs to mitigate risk during change projects, but it also empowers them to make more confident business decisions, as they’ll have a stronger grasp of how those decisions will play out.  

More than just job functions though, EAs need to conduct impact analysis with the individuals who hold those roles in mind. Managing the human aspect of the organization is critical for the success of any change project, and taking the time to understand employees and their needs from the applications they engage with will give architects a more contextualized analysis of what needs to change, and how. By sourcing input from employees, EAs gain insights into application usage that might not appear on a data sheet. Further, they may have ideas for integrations that EAs hadn’t considered from their removed vantage point—and their input can also be leveraged to encourage greater organizational buy in on new innovations 

Be selective in which measurements you assess for—and strategic in how you source them  

While securing a holistic overview of one’s application portfolio mitigates the risk of change projects falling short, it’s not essential for EAs to secure every single detail on their applications before initiating digital transformation projects. In fact, it is possible to have too many metrics during APM. Further, collecting this volume of information—especially if doing so manually—can stunt transformation momentum. For example, analyzing all the relationships within larger organizations that have a lengthy roster of applications and hundreds or more employees is near impossible, and it can cost EAs hours of valuable time trying to capture that much data. Instead of overwhelming themselves by collecting information that has no actionable insights tied to them, EAs should focus on the business and technical capabilities of each app and who within the company is dependent on them.  

Another way to alleviate the responsibility of APM for EAs is to clearly designate application “owners” across the organization. While useful in day-to-day operations, having a point person manage each program is especially helpful during change projects because they can offer insights into their respective application’s dependents more assuredly than an EA could by taking a general assessment of all programs. EAs can also leverage a digital APM platform to capture key relationships in realtime, so even if there are modifications to an application’s credentials, they’re automatically accounted for. With the means to secure reliable, up-to-date insights into their organizations’ portfolios, EAs can operate with increased agility, as they’ll have trustworthy, actionable data on hand whenever they need it. 

As organizations pull themselves out of the pandemic period, it’s important they take the time to assess the health of their application portfolio and eliminate any redundant or unnecessary apps that they might have accrued over the past year. In addition to saving an organization from overspending on investments they don’t need, proper APM paves the way for digital transformation initiatives in 2021. Once their application portfolios are squared away, business leaders can more effectively connect business strategy, capability mapping, process optimization and more to ensure digital transformation initiatives drive maximum value. 

Ian Stendera

Ian Stendera is the VP Product Marketing and part of the executive team at Ardoq. Working with Ardoq since 2015, he has built teams across sales, marketing, and customer success. Previously, Ian led the customer success team working closely with EA teams and leaders to ensure they realize the objectives of their enterprise architecture initiatives.