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Unconventional Metrics for IT Applications Portfolio Investment

Asking four questions and using some less traditional metrics can shed new light on where money can be saved and where it should be invested in the applications portfolio

One of the perennial jobs for IT applications teams who develop and maintain in-house software applications is to manage the portfolio of existing apps used by the company.

And what separates the good from bad investment decisions in the applications budget is economic insight. Knowing, for instance, when to hold off on building a new application because a simple upgrade of an existing application would do the trick, or understanding when maintenance of an existing application is masking a deeper problem with an underlying technology, manifesting in unwanted technical debt.

Four Questions

All this requires the right analysis of measures which shed light on the health of the applications portfolio, and so tell teams where investment decisions need to be made.

Applications teams should ask four questions, and make use of some of these less traditional measures.

  1. Where are we carrying technical debt?: While most traditional applications portfolio metrics answer this question, many are excessively complicated when simpler metrics will identify technology that is useless or outdated.

    • Unconventional Metric: Service desk tickets: While a high volume of service desk tickets identifies an opportunity for application enhancement, some organizations use an absence of tickets to identify applications that should be retired because they are redundant or outdated.  In short, if no one wants an application to be fixed, they probably don’t want it at all.

  2. Where do our business partners need better data?: Applications that are up-to-date and frequently used can still give users the wrong or bad information needed to complete a transaction, analysis, or process.

    • Unconventional Metric: Data accuracy and consistency: The best apps teams understand that most business partners cannot fully articulate their information needs until after a new technology is implemented and so measure how satisfied their “end users” are by measuring the accuracy and consistency of the data in the application.

      When data is inconsistent or inaccurate, Applications leaders must decide whether to invest in improving how that application is integrated, or if better data standards will solve the issue.

    • Unconventional Metric: Requests for data configurations or analytics: Applications leaders can periodically scan the request history to identify opportunities to build self-service capabilities for end users to fulfil data needs themselves.

  3. Where can technology improve business processes?: The value of an application often depends on the quality of the underlying business process that it supports. Before investing in new applications right away, the best teams analyze the health of the underlying business process first to identify where they can get more out of existing technology.

    • Unconventional Metric: Process variation across different geographies or lines of business: A high degree of business process variation indicates that Applications leaders should make one of two decisions. In many cases, standardized business processes can increase the value of an existing application or render another application unnecessary.

      In cases where business process variation is justified, Applications leaders should decide if they should redesign a system to be more modular and accommodate multiple process variations.

  4. When is technology difficult to find and use?: Employees may not have the awareness or skills to take full advantage of all the technology at their disposal in the firm. In these instances, investment in people to help employees use the application may yield more value than investment in technology itself.

    • Unconventional Metric: End-user adoption or application usage: While many organizations measure end-user adoption (how many employees actually use the application), few teams use it as a trigger to devote resources to training people on using the technology.

      The best teams identify and target training at influencers who will more likely share their lessons learned with their peers. In other instances, Applications can upgrade an application interface so make certain functionality more intuitive.

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