In today’s highly competitive markets, IT teams need to be more responsive to the fast pace of change demanded by the business. Achieving this agility calls for a good understanding of how IT platforms, systems, applications and infrastructure support business operations. And fundamental for such an understanding is an accurate, up-to-date inventory of the application estate.
Herein lies a challenge for many organisations. Maintaining accurate application catalogues is quite frankly boring and tedious. It’s either not done at all or becomes neglected as day-to-day priorities are addressed; it’s just human nature.
Unfortunately, the consequences can be far reaching. Change is hampered, technical debt grows, innovation is stifled. Many organisations urgently need a way to simplify and automate the process of maintaining an architecture repository.
Fortunately, there are steps that organisations can take to simplify their architecture housekeeping.
Establish a framework of operations
The first step is to implement a standard framework, such as Frameworx from the TM Forum, to describe how the business runs and how it is supported by IT applications and infrastructure.
Such an off-the-shelf framework can reduce the time and effort needed to catalogue an organisation’s business operations. Any standard framework will need to be tailored to use the everyday language of the business, otherwise people are likely to find it confusing and not use it. However, too much customisation can prevent meaningful comparisons with businesses in the same sector, again hampering adoption, usefulness and reducing the catalogue’s long-term value.
Define the taxonomy and decomposition
There are a couple of other aspects that need attention to ensure the application inventory can be truly useful to the business.
The first is to define a taxonomy for commonly used terms such as Application, System, Platform etc. Without this, users may fail to understand the insights that the inventory can deliver and the level of underlying complexity of the business. This lack of understanding is a common reason why many transformation programmes and large-scale change projects overspend, overrun and ultimately fail.
Secondly, it’s essential to establish the right level of decomposition into distinct components of the architecture. Too low a level and the ‘component impacted’ is not sufficiently distinct, while too high a level leads to the scope of impact becoming unreasonably broad.
Building the inventory with automated tools and manual correlation
Having agreed the taxonomy and level of decomposition, automated discovery tools, such as those from BMC and Service Now, can then be used to build the inventory of IT assets.
However, for the inventory to be useful to the business, the IT assets must be correlated to business capabilities and processes. This is an ongoing manual process with regular updates usually done by the architecture team. It can be challenging task because of the growing technical debt created by tactical decision making, the proliferation of Shadow IT and the flexibility of Cloud Computing (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) fuelling ever faster change.
Clearly, there is a need here for connectors that can help to automate the correlations between models (Conceptual, Logical and Physical) in the Architecture Repository and the Configuration Management Database (CMDB) that discovery tools typically maintain.
Extracting valuable insights from the catalogue
While some effort is needed to establish and maintain an accurate inventory of IT assets, it is easily justified by the valuable insights to guide planning and decision making that can be gleaned from the architecture metrics. The table below highlights some examples of such metrics.
Having an industry standard framework that describes the operation of the business, mapped to applications that make up the enterprise is an essential and invaluable asset. It provides the foundation from which the impact of change can be analysed and evaluated. Architecture decisions must be driven by factual insights. Without this, an organisation will continue to be limited in its ability to control costs and respond to market conditions.
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