How to Improve Application Support and Maintenance

By Jack Rosenberger  |  Posted 04-24-2014

How to Improve Application Support and Maintenance

By Jack Rosenberger

Nearly four of every 10 dollars in a large organization's IT budget goes to application support and maintenance (ASM), according to a new survey of 300 U.K. and U.S. CIOs conducted by HCL Technologies. If that budgetary stat isn't disturbing enough, consider this one: 83 percent of the aforementioned CIOs expect the cost of app support and maintenance to increase this year and next. All of this ASM activity is putting a burden on IT departments, which have been slammed by a 29 percent upturn in app support tickets during the last 12 months.

It is hardly surprising—given the overriding emphasis on creating new apps, supporting existing ones, and preventing future app problems—that nearly nine in 10 IT organizations complain that app prioritization is a challenge. Compounding this problem is the fact that many existing ASM systems are reactive and focus on fixing current problems, such as solving app incidents on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to being proactive and using an industrialized and consistent app solution.

For expert advice on ASM, CIO Insight recently spoke with Vijay B. Iyer, senior vice president of applications outsourcing at HCL Technologies, about reducing ASM costs, the overriding problem of app prioritization, and how CIOs can shift their focus to business transformational initiatives.

What are the key takeaways of the application support and maintenance (ASM) survey for CIOs?

Vijay Iyer: Today's CIOs need to understand that they can get much more out of ASM than just outsourcing and cost reduction. They lose out on millions of dollars' worth of operational value ideas, in addition to aligning business with IT even more closely.

Most organizations have implemented their IT systems—either ERPs or custom applications—to streamline and automate their business processes. The level of from-the-ground-up insights available to the team performing day-to-day application support and maintenance goes untapped in many organizations. ERPs, or any form of IT systems, were implemented to gain operational efficiencies. Often, after the system's implementation, most IT organizations look for enhancements or new projects, but the focus also has to be around the adoption of the implemented processes and systems. This is visible only to the team performing the work on the ground, and any amount of day-to-day improvements in ensuring process compliance gets the organization closer to the intended goals of the IT system's implementation.

One of the survey's most troubling findings is that ASM consumes four of every 10 dollars in the IT budgets of large organizations. Also, many organizations expect these application-related costs to continue to increase. How can CIOs reduce these costs?

The CIO's focus has to be twofold: One, CIOs should look at options for reducing costs that can be achieved by not just through labor arbitrage, but through applying Lean Six Sigma principles and eliminating incidents. Second, CIOs should look at ways of extracting higher value for the money being spent on ASM.

The HCL survey makes a connection between how the reactive use of ASM is hindering IT organizations' ability to undertake business transformation projects. If IT organizations were more proactive with ASM instead of being reactive, how much time and money could they free up for transforming their business? What changes have you observed when IT organizations are reactive with ASM?

CIOs can easily free up to 30 percent of money and time from their existing ASM organization, both insourced or outsourced, to focus on transformational activities.

Most organizations today are reactive—the ASM team starts the work only after receiving a ticket. In fact, it's not uncommon to hear that very large global organizations pay their IT service providers per ticket. With this model, what kind of incentive will a service provider have to reduce their own revenue if they are being paid per incident?

When IT organizations are reactive with ASM, then we get what I call a "Watermelon effect" —the IT SLAs are green (i.e., time to respond to an incident, time to resolve an incident, etc.) but the business users are red. Unless an IT organization strives to eliminate incidents, business user disruption will continue to happen, which hampers their execution.

One of the top ASM problems confronting IT departments is prioritizing application problems and service requests. Why does this situation exist?

CIOs have been expected to reduce costs for ASM, but now very few CIOs have changed the model while also trying to reduce costs. Many of them have not changed the core model, and have tried to do the same things with lesser spend. What happens most often in these cases is a prioritization problem, and they are faced with the decision of fixing something that's broken, or working on a new request coming from the business, or preventing a problem that might occur in the future. The problem is that the CIO cannot pick just one of these as all three are required to be done—and then some. Also, it's important to note is that this cannot be done by just replicating the current operating model with a labor arbitrage; the answer is changing the core model.

How to Improve Application Support and Maintenance

What should CIOs be doing better in terms of application development and support?

CIOs have to adopt an alternative operating model that looks at proactive obsolescence. This model works at eliminating incidents rather than just resolving incidents, and it creates incremental business value every day rather than a focus on only further reducing IT costs. This model can also monitor business process KPIs, and align IT SLAs to business process SLAs. To change the core model, it is imperative to do all of these things together.

Regardless of whether ASM is performed in-house, outsourced, or a combination of both, one of the biggest hurdles to reducing ASM costs is a reluctance to disrupt the status quo? How can CIOs who are handling ASM in-house better change the prevailing order?

When evaluating ASM, CIOs need to ask three questions: How many incidents has the team eliminated in a month? How many value ideas were generated and implemented in a month? How many business process KPIs are being monitored by the team? All this cannot be done without investing in tools that provide pictorial visibility into the IT applications landscape, including application to business process mapping, application to application interfaces, application to infrastructure dependencies, and application health parameters like functional quality, technical quality and management quality.

What about CIOs who partly or wholly outsource ASM. What status quo-disrupting moves do they need to make? What end point should they be trying to reach?

The end point needs to have three things, the first of which is the smooth operation of the IT applications environment, which means that the core IT SLAs should be green. Second, organizations need to institutionalize the creation of grass-roots improvement ideas by everyone every day. Third, every element of an IT application needs to be linked to the business processes to identify business process impacts and enable process cycle-time reduction through IT. All this cannot be done without investing in tools that provide pictorial visibility into the IT applications landscape, as I mentioned earlier.

Any last thoughts or advice for our readers?

A major shift in the technology landscape is happening now with organizations moving from on-premise to hybrid cloud applications, or from in-house data centers to compute on demand, in addition to the organizations' huge demand for mobile-enabled applications and analytical applications. As a result, CIOs must quickly re-structure their organization to ensure that these demands are being met. Therefore, it is important to look at changing the core model for ASM to a new alternative model to get all the benefits of value, velocity, and visibility, and to develop an internal core team who understands the business and business users better than any external service provider can, in order for the CIO to be able to focus on transformational initiatives.

About the Author

Jack Rosenberger is the managing editor of CIO Insight. You can follow him on Twitter via @CIOInsight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Protecting Your Brand in Cyberspace," click here.