Cleaning house

After years of acquiring software systems and not getting rid of anything, companies have severe application clutter. As a result, given their limited financial resources, they can't meet the current demand for IT unless they "turn off" some applications. Maybe it's time to do some housekeeping.

The practice of continually adding to the IT burden while holding IT budgets and head counts relatively flat is obviously problematic. Yet that's exactly what many companies have done since the early 2000s. And this practice is one of the reasons why many CIOs feel that they simply don't have enough resources to meet internal demand for IT.

Since most organizations add applications but rarely get rid of any, it's not uncommon to find that a large organization supports several hundred applications, including packaged and custom-developed systems. (I'm not counting shelfware.)

Turning off some existing systems sounds like a pretty straightforward solution, but it's not. When CIOs embark on a housecleaning project, they often find that it's fraught with challenges.

Human nature is such that nobody wants to give up any application or service once they've had it. Also, some systems are so old that nobody remembers who ordered them and IT lacks the political clout to make business managers participate in a housecleaning exercise.

But there are ways to make it less painful:

  • Incorporate existing systems into the current application portfolio management framework.
  • Provide business leaders with good information. For instance, if you were to ask a marketing director if he could live without a current order-tracking system, he would probably say no. But if you ask that same manager whether it's worth the $1 million a year that it costs to maintain the system for the 14 business people who use it, it becomes a different story.
  • Sell the housecleaning initiative internally so that there is high-level buy-in.
  • Try to have the consumers of IT bear the cost of IT. Unfortunately, many companies haven't reached the point where business units truly own the IT software assets. Until they get to this point, IT organizations should be prepared to offer some help with the cleanup of application portfolios.

Barbara Gomolski, a former Computerworld reporter, is a vice president at Gartner, where she focuses on IT financial management

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