It's only been about a month since I compared the way many companies use their IT assets to folks consuming junk food. They ingest them without much thought about which ones are really necessary, at some point realizing they are no longer lean or healthy.
I talked a lot about the costs associated with this common practice of introducing new software applications without retiring little-used, redundant or just plain unnecessary apps. I didn't offer any hard numbers, though. How about $2.8 million? That's an estimate of how much unused applications cost some companies every year, offered by Dynamic Markets, which surveyed European IT pros at the behest of Informatica, a provider of data integration software. For three-quarters of the respondents, unused applications represented on average a quarter of the total number of apps on the system.
Eighty-one percent of the respondents believe their networks contain unused apps and data, and 86 percent think systems would run more efficiently if unused apps were removed. (OK, I just said "duh!" out loud. More than once. Good thing I'm working at home today.)
In that survey, commissioned by HP, 80 percent of respondents said an overly complex and heterogeneous applications environment had a significant or critical impact on development of new apps, and 73 percent mentioned difficult-to-change legacy applications. A whopping 91 percent of respondents said their companies would benefit greatly from an application consolidation/rationalization effort. (I just said "duh!" out loud again.) So yeah, I'd say it's a universal problem.
As both Loraine and I noted, better governance would help. I shared a suggestion I really liked, from Steve O'Donnell's The Hot Aisle blog. Make sure each IT system has two owners, one from business and one from IT. Just like asset inventories, maintain current ownership lists. They should reflect any changes in business roles. If folks leave, are promoted or otherwise switch jobs, new owners must be appointed. Per O'Donnell's advice: The business owner needs to be willing to pay the running costs and the technology owner has to have the responsibility of delivering the service. Just by cataloguing your IT systems and switching off those that don't have owners (of either type) you will reduce costs and improve reliability.
Governance won't solve everything, however. Forty-six percent of the IT pros surveyed by Dynamic Markets said unused applications will not be removed from their corporate systems in case the data inside them is needed at a later date, with possible compliance issues a factor for 26 percent of them. The Forrester survey got a similar result, with 40 percent of respondents saying apps were left in data-inquiry mode for data access/compliance reasons.
IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard wrote about some additional barriers to retiring applications yesterday, mentioning vendors who make it difficult to separate data from the application in which it was created and business-unit leaders who keep data in certain applications under lock and key because theirs was the internal organization that funded deployment of the apps. Virtualization may help rectify those kinds of issues, wrote Vizard, because once organizations start sharing servers and storage, they soon discover how much simpler it is to share data across multiple applications with access to the same storage.
Noting Hitachi Data Systems has created a virtual storage platform that unifies data under a common storage architecture, Vizard wrote:
In effect, the drive to retire old IT infrastructure and create unified storage architectures is setting the stage for a profound change in the way we use applications and manage data. Beyond making data more accessible, this revolution also will have a profound impact on corporate politics. If everybody has access to the same data, then the only real king is the CEO and board of directors. And application vendors that try to hold companies hostage by controlling their data will be rendered powerless.