Businesses routinely focus on maintaining well-understood assets such as staff, buildings, finances and hardware. However the application estate is a less immediately tangible asset, and does not always receive such careful consideration. Large companies often exist in a state of ‘app chaos’ where they don’t have an accurate picture of exactly what applications reside in their portfolios or what purpose they serve, and actually might only use a fraction of them.

Take for example a mid-sized bank that I worked with. They licensed a £320 project management software package for each of their 20,000 employees. In this case, application analysis revealed that only 1,000 employees used the full package, 10,000 could use a simplified £13 version; and 9,000 didn’t need the software at all. Rationalising this company’s app estate led to savings of £5.6 million per year.

And the costs of bloated estates are not just financial. Excess apps can also slow systems and processes down, damaging productivity and competiveness. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to retire apps and remove those that are no longer needed – in effect, sending them to an app graveyard.

Rationalising: now or later?

Assessing when to undertake application rationalisation programmes is a critical consideration. Rationalisation is something far too many businesses don’t think about until there is a migration requirement.

At this point, when deadlines loom, getting the rationalisation done becomes an unnecessarily inaccurate and rushed exercise. Huge cost, time and productivity benefits can be had by cleaning out an app estate sooner, rather than when the wolf is at the door. Here are 8 top tips to ensuring an effective application rationalisation process:

1. Usage

Businesses need to understand how often apps are used across the corporate estate. This should be assessed by looking at the number of application instances, (the most basic measure), and an assessment of real-time use, (which is much more useful). At least three months’ worth of analysis is recommended to allow for month and quarter end usage patterns.

Accurate usage assessment requires some quite specialist monitoring tools. We’re big advocates of capturing real human interaction; as signified by mouse and key-board-use and in-app user-activity, as opposed to an app simply being open or running in the background.

2. Categorisation

What do the apps within the business do? Do any have overlapping functionality? Can duplicated applications be removed from the estate? It is vital that a business understands the business criticality of its various apps, before they can make any decisions about removing them.

3. Supportability

Businesses have to make a value judgement of every app depending on whether it is supported by a software vendor, and whether support is actually required. An unsupported app is often a bad investment and a security risk, and may eventually become more of a liability than an asset. This should be considered when deciding whether to remove or replace that application.

4. Licensing

It is important that the licensing cost information is considered. Are expensive applications being used and contributing to enterprise and user productivity? Can this be quantified? All else being equal, a rationalisation process will weight against an expensive yet largely useless app.

5. Environmental impact

Some applications simply use more power than others. How does the businesses’ use of particular applications contribute to or compromise sustainability commitments? Weighed-up against other factors such as cost of the app and usage, is this enough to influence application choice?

6. If migrating, the suitability of the app on the new platform…

It is vital to check that your existing apps will be compatible on the platform to which you are migrating. And we wholly endorse an automated process to achieve this.

7. Remember it’s about users, not just IT

The application estate is where IT meets its users. When migrating applications a business is actually migrating users as well. As such, a primary consideration should be whether users have the right tools to be productive. Having to re-visit rationalisation decisions because users are not happy would suggest a process that lacked user consultation and implications for productivity.

8. Focus on ongoing rationalisation

As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. Businesses should make on-going rationalisation of their application estate a part of their mind-set in order to keep the business running at peak efficiency, rather than waiting until they encounter costly problems at crucial flashpoints, such as the migration to a new platform. Ultimately, maintaining a lean app estate ensures that migrations are accelerated, cost less, and cause fewer disruptions, so productivity is not compromised.

Walking through the points discussed above, the fact that businesses’ app estates are sometimes rationalised by up to 60% gives a clear indication of just how many bloated app estates there are out there, and the gains that can be achieved. Any intelligent, on-going rationalisation of a businesses app estate, logically following the points listed above, will therefore pay for itself several times over.