A full version of this viewpoint was first published in the March 2016 Microsoft Windows Pro Insider newsletter.
Application 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, when people ask about application owners, 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.
Each migration project involves an epic journey of discovery when it comes to applications and enterprises will have to consider all of the following:
- Which applications are installed on each machine and which are actually in use
- Who uses each application
Whether licences be claimed back
- The location of the installation media / source code
- Whether it is possible to retire some applications, or consolidate those with the same functionality into one
- Who owns each application.
By reviewing application installations and how they are used every few years (the forklift approach), enterprises create 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 the above investigations into an endless nightmare, seriously impacting productivity and significantly delaying projects. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that endpoints are no longer static; they can be located at any one of a company’s multiple offices, remotely via a virtual private network, or from virtual machines, mobile devices and tablets.
And this only refers to physically installed application lications. The third layer of difficulty is web application. Only a few tools can help with the metrics enterprises 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.
However, continuous application management offers many benefits. Not only is it cheaper in the long run, but it also makes migrations and the day-to-day management of an IT 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 vital telemetry about it, especially in the critical days following a release or update where user performance has the most impact on productivity. Telemetry is now available for almost all applications, but is often not leveraged. Monitoring how people interact with the application is becoming increasingly necessary for understanding current gains, and anticipating future return on investment and areas of improvement.
We need to remember why organisations migrate platforms, operating systems, phones, applications, or anything else. They migrate to have a better experience. That better experience may be improved productivity, less work for maintenance on the back end, or 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 at different times of the day, how often, and via which device and location. Companies want to know which applications are open on a user’s machine, which one they are focusing on and how responsive the application is, including what dependencies it has, the latency between the endpoint and the application servers, and much more. This phenomenon is already happening in other industries. For example, 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 they take and more.
All this monitoring has one goal – to improve our lives. People may use gadgets to help them change personal habits and ensure they sleep or exercise better. Why? It is much easier to change things when you are measuring them. Similarly, in application management, companies need to understand concurrent utilisation with metrics to identify which day and time are best suited to fulfil change requests, minimise downtime while patching and upgrading, or 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 helping IT departments to deliver value-added services for all lines of business, managed and delivered through service desks, service managers, and application owners.
To obtain a solid understanding of application utilisation rates and user behaviour, enterprises should consider using a tool to improve the end user experience and productivity with regard to the adoption and consumption of infrastructure investments. I have used 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, I can see how many systems have a specific application open and have it in focus (active windows). This would help me to understand when that application is really being used and how intensively.
One of the key components of customer service is the motto ‘Always come back to the customer before the customer comes back to you’. Proactive management of applications will provide enterprises with the tools they need to deliver a better experience for their users before they start complaining about the current one. Isn’t that wonderful?
The last piece of the puzzle is communicating the value of your work to your boss. By having valuable data about application utilisation, users will be able to measure results and keep them focused on improved user experiences with the empirical evidence. You can’t improve what you can’t measure, but with tools in place, enterprises can deliver on migration projects and post-project objectives of measuring and maintaining healthy and productive users as changes continue to occur.
Companies can also save money on licensing, give users a solid service level by knowing when an application can be maintained with minimum impact, and keep the infrastructure appropriate for each application with solid metrics for capacity planning. These tools also help to avoid expensive ‘forklift’ exercises during migrations.
In summary, my advice to my fellow IT professionals is to actively manage their applications as a BAU process; monitor utilisation and measure everything they can; use the information they gather to provide a better user experience; save money by reducing downtime and user impact; and always come back to the customer before the customer comes back to them.
David Nudelman is Microsoft MVP for Windows and Devices for IT
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