When it comes to shutting down out-of-date, risky or unnecessary applications, James Gordon, vice president of technology and operations at Needham Bank, doesn't mess around.
"Users will tell us we can't get rid of certain programs because they always use them. [IT] then asks them to define 'always'," he says, and then conducts a simple test: "We shut off the application's server to see if anyone notices."
While this might seem drastic, Gordon finds it the best way to rebut a claim that a program is a must-have. "If we can prove that access to an application hasn't been attempted in six months, then we can argue that application isn't necessary," he says, adding IT powers the server back up as soon as the first call for the application comes in.
Around half the time the IT group has to re-start the app, Gordon says. "Sometimes it will be off for two months and then we get a call, and have to eat crow," Gordon explains. "Other times we power it down and the app is forgotten."
IT executives today must keep close watch on software usage as out-of-control application stacks can jack up costs, introduce vulnerabilities, add to infrastructure complexity, jeopardize licensing and waste staffing resources.
"Fewer than 20% of applications account for more than 80% of IT's budget," says Andy Kyte, vice president and fellow at Gartner. Optimizing that 20% by eliminating redundant, inefficient and wasteful software could yield significant cost and efficiency benefits.
"You have to manage all applications for value. Know what you've got, why you've got it, what it costs, what you plan to do with it, and how you're going to continue to manage it," he says. Individual applications and application portfolios have to be held at an affordable price with good service to users.
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.