The number of applications being deployed across the enterprise is growing at an unprecedented rate, according to a recent CIO UK readership survey. The proliferation of applications is a double-edged sword for most organisations and it is typically CIOs who are on the sharp end of the application bloat.

As the number of applications deployed spirals there is the risk of management overheads increasing dramatically, forcing CIOs to spend significant amounts of time and resources addressing issues including roll-out and versioning. Organisations need to ensure that licensing is up to date, and allocate or reallocate system resources to maintain acceptable software performance.

And the support costs associated with application bloat do not end there, as complex application portfolios will almost invariably add to the burden on help desks and increase security risks. Complex portfolios can also have a significantly negative impact on the efficiency of business intelligence programmes because of their tendency to fragment data sources across the enterprise, making the implementation of business intelligence more complex and costly.

Lagging behind

A CIO survey of 241 senior IT managers and CIOs found that most organisations still have "some way to go" when it comes to addressing application portfolios. The poll revealed that only 35% of respondents felt their applications portfolio aligned with their business strategy, while half said that there was "moderate" or "too much" duplication in their application portfolios. The report went on to warn that 62% of respondents said that they could not state the real cost of running their applications portfolio with any certainty.

David Wilde, CIO of Essex County Council (main image and below), is developing a strategic plan which would rationalise the 300-plus applications that are in use across his organisation. This has been an ongoing project that Wilde describes as a "really hard slog". Wilde explains that app bloat cannot be addressed in isolation, but needs to be part of a holistic project that addresses all levels of an organisation. In line with this view, Wilde and his team are rolling out a large-scale enterprise architecture (EA) plan to enable the organisation to not only understand which applications have already been installed, but also to plan how software can meet core business needs over the next three to five years.

Services overload

Wilde says that dealing with a large base of often bespoke legacy applications is a common problem for public sector organisations.

"People lose sight of the fact that local authorities have a vast range of services to deliver," he explains.

Essex County Council CIO David Wilde

"For Essex County Council we have something in the order of 300 different services ranging from strategic waste right through to maintaining parks. You can imagine the application stack you would need to support all that and the ability for that application stack to grow organically is huge.

"If we take corporate systems as an example we don't just have the four systems that most companies have: HR, finance, procurement and business intelligence. We have 32 - about a dozen different finance systems tied into social care and other services as well as corporate ones. Clearly this is not sustainable going forward and this gives me a clear mandate as a CIO to drive some efficiencies. From the organisation's perspective if we are able to de-duplicate and streamline services ultimately that has to be good overall."

According to Wilde's estimates, around 70% of Essex County Council's stack is made up of legacy applications and the rest new applications. He cautions that the "real challenge" facing the organisation centres around the legacy applications, and he sees centralisation as the solution.

"How to make it more responsive - first and foremost you must centralise your application support. You cannot leave it running out there federated because there are too many vested interests in retaining what is already there.

"So centralism works, but in the right way. It is not about centralising bureaucracy, it is about centralising so you can become more agile about how you consolidate and replace those systems. I think the second thing is to be brave about understanding how private cloud solutions can actually provide more commoditised answers to how you deliver those business needs. Move away from customised and towards commoditised," he says.

In terms of costs, Wilde estimates that around 50% of the organisation's 145 information services staff are tied up dealing with the authority's bloated application stack. In terms of contractors, close to 60% work on provisioning, licensing, supporting and maintaining line of business systems.

The first phase of the EA rollout is projected to take out £7.2 million a year in costs against an overall spend, which stands at around £20 million a year. Migrating systems into the cloud forms the central plank of this EA strategy.

"I think there is a radical change in IT service provision that we need to accept and this is where cloud begins to play a more prominent role. We should be investing more in maintaining and sustaining application delivery in line with customer service need instead of sustaining what we happened to buy years ago. We are moving to a much more commoditised model and this is where I want to play through over the next few years," Wilde says.

Driven to distraction

The headaches associated with application bloat are not confined to the public sector. Jaguar Land Rover IT projects and portfolio director Alex Rammal (below) has been addressing issues including replication, alignment and rationalisation of applications. This task has been complicated by Jaguar Land Rover's past, as a history of multiple owners has left it with a "every large" legacy application estate.

"Obviously being a dual-brand company we have grown up with a number of different systems effectively replicating some of the work," says Rammal. "And having had a number of owners we have taken in applications and services provided by Ford and BMW [the previous two owners of Jaguar Land Rover]. It is very difficult for us to keep on top of that, but we use a number of auditing, housekeeping and maintenance tools to keep up to date with what we have got.

"It is always difficult to maintain a good visibility of that. However recently we have gone through a large outsourcing deal, which meant we had to put in a lot of effort auditing and understanding our environment."

Jaguar Land Rover is engaged on a major programme of modernisation of its IT estate - including a major SAP roll-out - which aims to significantly reduce overlap of applications.

"Certainly at Jaguar Land Rover we are investing heavily in a significant level of consolidation around our legacy application landscape. And the introduction of programmes such as a SAP deployment means we are actively targeting where we can reduce our legacy application stack."

Reduction equals response

This reduction in the number of supported applications will "definitely" enable the IT team to be more responsive to business requirements, according to Rammal.

Jaguar Land Rover IT projects and portfolio director Alex Rammal

"If we can provide a more flexible architecture and landscape to the processes, that will allow us in the IT department to focus on where we can add value to our business. We are trying to move away from being a provider of boxes and wire to become a value-adding partner to the business. Part of that is allowing ourselves to move away from the day-to-day grind of supporting such a large app suite.

"We are aiming for a situation where 15% or 20% of our app landscape consists of legacy, but still strategic value applications. Putting in SAP will allow the company to get rid of a large swathe of its legacy applications."

For Essex County Council's Wilde, dealing with the challenges of application bloat must involve taking a step back and looking more holistically at how the solution should work in the context of the business as a whole.

"The difficulty is that IT business cases often do not stack up on their own. You often end up investing in the IT to unlock efficiencies elsewhere and I think there is still quite often a disconnect between an IT case and an overarching business case.

"You've got to get down to muck and bullets. It does involve engaging in businesses at all level of the organisation. It also involves an awful lot of analysis around things like supplier and purchasing; around vendor lists. There isn't an easy magic bullet to do this thing it is a hard slog. But it is well worth it because if you have got that level of visibility then you can take a big step back and actually make enterprise architecture a reality."