The case for continuous application management

The case for continuous application management
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Applications are the single most common reason why enterprise-level migrations fail. The lack of continuous application management causes a lot of disruption to projects and business as usual (BAU). Many times you see people asking about “application owners” and all you see are blank faces in response.

Managing an application portfolio is a full time job, and has a lot of advantages, especially with the way IT is evolving.
As every migration project has to deal with an epic journey of discovery when it comes to apps, here is a high level view of what you will have to discover:

• Which apps are installed on every machine?
• Which apps are actually in use
• Who uses each app
• Who still needs the applications that are installed
• Can licenses be claimed back?
• Where is the installation media / source code?
• Can we retire some of those apps?
• Can we consolidate versions?
• Can we consolidate apps with the same functionality into one?
• And who the hell owns each application?
• Do we have installation guides for each of them?

The challenges
By reviewing application installations and usage every few years (the “forklift approach”), you are creating revenue-draining gaps in the critical information needed to make effective IT decisions. Employee turnover and a lack of focus on application management can turn your investigation of the questions above into an endless nightmare and cause serious impacts to productivity and everyday support while also significantly delaying projects. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that endpoints are no longer static; they can be at any of your offices, remote via VPN or DirectAccess, or from virtual machines, mobile devices, and tablets.

These examples only make reference to physically installed applications. The third layer of difficulty is web applications. Only a few tools can help with the metrics you will need to tackle this prevalent application usage scenario. A web page being opened doesn’t mean it is in use. A combination of open plus focus would be the key metric in this case.

The benefits of continuous application management

Continuous application management is not only cheaper in the long run, it makes migrations and the day-to-day management of your infrastructure much simpler. We’ve see an explosion of the use of DevOps, which is no more than an extended effort to make the refresh cycle of a specific application shorter. That doesn’t remove the need to monitor the application and gather critical telemetry about it, especially in the critical days following a release or update where user performance is the most impactful on productivity. Telemetry is now available for almost all applications, but is often not leveraged. Monitoring how people interact with the application is more and more necessary for understanding current gains, and anticipating future return on investment and areas of improvement.

We need to remember why organizations migrate platforms, operating systems, phones, applications, or anything else. They migrate to have a better experience. That better experience may be more productivity, less work for maintenance on the back end, better security, integration with other systems, automation, and (almost always tied to) increased profitability.

We are entering the “age of the quantified end user,” where companies measure how people use applications, during what times of day, how often, and where from. They want to know, of all the apps open on a user’s machine, which one is in focus, what is the responsiveness of the application, what are the dependencies, what is the latency between the endpoint and the application servers, and much more. This phenomenon is already happening in other industries. The UK government introduced a smart metering project wherein homes can measure real-time energy consumption. People everywhere are using watches and applications to monitor their lives, how many hours they sleep, how many calories they intake and burn, how many steps, miles, etc.

All this monitoring has one goal, improve our lives. In the case of gadgets, you may change some of your personal habits to make you sleep and exercise better. Why? It is much easier to change things when you are measuring them. In application management, you need to understand concurrent utilization with metrics that will tell you which day and time are best suited to fulfill change requests, minimize downtime while patching, upgrading, and managing change control and capacity planning,

The adoption of solutions focused on improving this broader and more quantified user experience is the natural progression in delivering the value-added services demanded of IT departments to meet diverse departmental needs, for all lines of business; managed and delivered through service desks, service managers, and application owners.

In order to obtain a solid understanding of application utilization and use behavior, consider using a tool to improve the end user experience and productivity with regard to the adoption and consumption of infrastructure investments. I have been using Lakeside Software’s SysTrack for years in forklift migrations, and afterwards to transform application management into a BAU process. Having a tool like this one can provide insight into a huge amount of vital metrics. For example, in the image below, I can see how many systems have a specific application open and have it in focus (active windows). This would help us understand when that application is really being used and how intensively.

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One of the key components of customer service is the motto, “Always come back to the customer before the customer comes back to you.” Well, the proactive management of applications will provide you the tools to deliver a better experience for your users before they start complaining about the current one. Isn’t that wonderful?

Final thoughts
The last piece of the puzzle is communicating the value of your work to your boss. By having valuable data about application utilization, you will be able to measure results, as well as keeping those results focused on improved user experiences with the empirical evidence to prove those results. You can’t improve what you can’t measure. With tools in place, you can deliver on migration projects and post-project objectives of measuring and maintaining healthy and productive users as changes continue to occur. You can also:

• Save money on licensing.
• Give users a solid service level, knowing when an application can be maintained with minimum impact.
• Keeping the infrastructure appropriate for each application with solid metrics for capacity planning.
• Avoid expensive “forklift” exercises during migrations.

In summary, my advice to my fellow IT professionals is as follows:

• Actively manage your applications as a BAU process.
• Monitor utilization; measure everything you can.
• Use the information you gather to provide a better user experience.
• Save money; reduce downtime and user impact.
• Always come back to the customer before the customer comes back to you.

Article published on the Windows IT Pro Insider newsletter from Microsoft on the 30/03/2016 – Subscribe here

David Nudelman is an active member of the IT community in Europe. He has many years of experience in the Microsoft infrastructure space and has been awarded as a “Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP)” seven times. You can follow him on Twitter @nudelmanuk.

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