by Daniel Hebda

Yin and yang: business and IT

Mar 27, 2018
EnterpriseIT LeadershipIT Strategy

What’s the single most important factor that drives your business? If you answered technology, you could be right one day, but business innovation could be the correct answer the next.

yin yang peace aligned unison
Credit: Getty Images

Like the balance between yin and yang, the two opposite but complementary forces espoused by traditional Chinese culture, the technology and business sides of your company often have opposite yet complementary needs and directions. When the yin and yang of your business are in harmony, you can reach your goals. When they are out of synch … dozens, or hundreds, of problems can arise.

There’s a continuing belief that something is always tugging at yin or yang to destabilize equilibrium. It’s no different with the needs of business operations to be supported by the correct IT assets vs. the capabilities and resources that IT is able to provide.

How can your IT team be fully equipped and empowered to master this balance? To innovate to foster business growth, yet have the necessary resources to properly maintain your IT system to “keep the lights on?”

Ask yourself:

  • Do you have complete visibility into your IT portfolio to see an inventory of all applications and which business capabilities they serve?
  • Have you simplified the complexity of your IT system (that results from growth, mergers or acquisitions)? Have you decommissioned resources to operate at the peak of business agility?
  • Have you reduced risks by avoiding technology obsolescence with up-to-date information about hundreds (or thousands) of IT resource lifecycles, using this valuable insight to optimize your IT system?

There are actions you can take to keep the yin-yang balance between business needs and IT. 

I’m talking about streamlining your IT system, using the practice of IT portfolio management. This will help you gain visibility, simplify complexity and reduce risks so that you can devote more resources to innovation, which promotes operational agility, business growth and profitability.

Applications change as soon as they are installed. And, the suitability of any application for its intended purpose – business or operational support or technical performance – declines over time, as described in Gartner, Inc.’s research note, How to Assess Your Current Application Portfolio Using Fitness and Value Review Processes, which advocates application fitness assessments.

According to a recent article in Insights for Professionals, “It may not seem that improving the efficiency of daily tasks has much of an impact on success, but ensuring all teams are as productive as possible can go a long way to helping reach goals. Losing time dealing with confused internal communications or working across different systems can cause small issues that add up to something bigger.”

Establishing IT portfolio management as an ongoing practice is the best way to make your IT system more powerful, efficient and directly suited to the daily needs of your internal business innovators.

“What applications were worth more than others? Which consume the most resources, time, effort and money, but return less business value? We may want to retire some of these applications and replace them with more modern ones, but are they worth replacing? And what are the costs of the proposed applications compared to their business value?” wrote Nari Kannan in “APM processes: determining apps business value.”

Once you know the business value, cost, technical efficiency, performance and risk of each IT asset, you can create a roadmap to streamline your IT system … add and retire technologies at the right time, avoid technology obsolescence, eliminate costly redundancies … and promote balance between IT and business.  

Here are the three foundational steps in IT portfolio management.

1. Get visibility into your IT assets from an applications inventory

When you know how and where your applications are used, and by whom, you’ll have a clear understanding of how they serve the business and which ones are the best tools for each group. This comprehensive picture of the entire company IT landscape helps keep your IT system flexible for new technologies to serve fresh business projects or accommodate needed applications.

There is a proven, structured method to create an application inventory:

  • Prepare for data collection by defining the data needed and identifying the source of the information.
  • Collect data using a collaborative approach with key stakeholders, employing a crowdsourcing approach, and depositing all information into a centralized repository for use company-wide.
  • Validate the collected data by checking the accuracy of the new information with what is already commonly known.

After completing this inventory, you’ll have a ‘single source of truth’ about your applications that can be shared easily across the organization.  You can then begin impact analysis on the application portfolio to test its efficiency and change it based on evolving needs.

2. Reduce IT complexity and costs by decommissioning applications

Using the portfolio analysis and your roadmap for IT evolution, you can begin to decommission unnecessary, redundant or high-cost applications and integrate new applications or better replacements into your IT landscape.

Retiring applications requires three essential steps:

  • Define the criteria for your applications assessment by focusing on key issues, such as how well an application supports important business operations or cloud readiness of an application.
  • Review the evaluation process. Was it done through collaborative efforts? Did you use crowdsourcing? What was the score?
  • Categorize and rank applications and create a prioritized list of decommissioning projects, then analyze it by comparing multiple scenarios.

By simplifying the IT landscape, you’ll reduce costs while gaining new flexibility. The IT team will be able to focus on the applications that can best support business needs. In addition, adding new technologies will be easier because you’ll have a better understanding of your current IT resources and how new apps would fit in without being redundant.

3. Mitigate risks that arise from technology obsolescence

Software vendors frequently alter their business applications; when these updates are not applied to the versions your company uses, minor abnormalities can quickly have major consequences.  

For example, when a large enterprise uses 2,000 business applications, up to 5,000 technology components – such as databases, operating systems, network equipment or virtual machines – can exist across the IT system.  Modern technology and software updates are necessary to protect from cyberattacks, performance deterioration, fraud, data corruption, instability and other risks.

To avoid these risks, you can take several actions:

  • Understand all assets in your IT landscape, so you have the pertinent data about the hardware and software elements, as well as the relationships (upstream and downstream) between all components.
  • Subscribe to an external digital library containing information on IT resources such as end-of-life and end-of-support, without the need to constantly populate this information manually.
  • Analyze the impact of the changes in technologies on your applications.
  • Rely on the information sources and reports from your IT portfolio management solution to understand the state of obsolescence.

With continuing review of technology lifecycles and obsolescence, you can avoid unexpected operational failures and unnecessary costs by replacing IT assets in a timely manner.  The information will help you prioritize application portfolio updates to support critical needs. This will also help your business groups because you can ensure that you offer them well-maintained, up-to-date applications.

Keeping yin and yang in balance

These three foundational steps in IT portfolio management can be the beginning to restore an out-of-balance IT system.  Even more important is using the information gained through this process to drive decisions about how the IT portfolio should change in order to support the transformation of internal business processes that will take advantage of new market opportunities.

With a streamlined, always up-to-date application portfolio, your teams can support innovation better, introduce new technologies that will propel the company forward, elevate the level of customer relationships and become more flexible to meet changing needs.

As the teacher/philosopher Confucius said, “Settle one difficulty, and you will keep one hundred away.”