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Maps for Apps

A new framework helps companies assess the true cost of legacy applications.

For the past several years IT departments the world over have been tightening their belts. But before you can rein in costs, you must gain control over them, and that can be difficult.

Enter consultants from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Sapient Corp., who have developed what they call the Application Investment Management (AIM) framework. Its goal is to help companies abandon the machete in favor of the scalpel, trimming IT costs wisely based on business needs and key metrics.

Recently, Sapient teamed up with the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University to review the framework with organizations. “In really complicated environments, the fundamental question for executives is, ‘How do I rationalize IT? How do I make the best investments?’” says Mark Jeffery of the Kellogg School. “AIM is about how to rationalize the run-the-business portion of the IT portfolio, to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.” Jeffery, who is associate professor of technology at Kellogg’s Center for Research on Technology and Innovation, equates the process with portfolio management, a hot topic in IT these days. But there is one critical difference: portfolio management generally evaluates future investments, which account for about one-quarter of most IT budgets. The AIM framework targets existing applications, which not only consume the lion’s share of the cash but also are often so embedded within a company that calculating the costs and maintenance effort needed to keep them running is nearly impossible.

AIM is best suited for large, complex, global organizations that spend tens of millions of dollars (or more) on IT; have gone through a fair amount of mergers and acquisitions; or rely on dozens of enterprise resource planning, human-resource, or E-mail systems. Such organizations usually have several dozen, hundreds, or even thousands of applications and complex business processes that span many product lines and geographies. Collectively, all that technology amounts to what Sheldon Monteiro, vice president of the Business & IT Planning Center of Excellence at Sapient, calls an “ominous black box.” CFOs and CIOs, he says, “throw up their hands and say, ‘I can’t manage this, so I’m just going to use some very blunt tools.’” Out comes the machete, with no consideration for the impact on existing business or future strategy.

In essence, AIM tries to crack open that black box by first relating (or mapping) business processes, such as sales forecasting, to the specific IT application or applications that support it. A variety of metrics are used to define the business value of applications (transactions per second, inventory turns, or soft measures such as customer satisfaction). These are then mapped to the total cost of the application, everything from the salaries and benefits of IT staff to software licenses to hardware-lease payments to real estate (see “Mapping Costs to Results” at the end of this article).

By connecting the dots between costs and business value, companies can uncover high-performing applications, phase out resource hogs, and optimize future spending. Even a quick pass can shine light on redundant systems and reveal ways to improve operations. One finance firm, for example, had 10 different loan-origination applications in various business units, but by comparing them on two key transactional and operational metrics, the firm was able to flag the winners and abandon the others.

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