The reverse application pyramid

Instead of adding more applications you should be taking some away to reduce your costs and support efforts.

No matter what field you're in you have the same problem as any other field:  application sprawl.  It seems like there's almost no way to control the number of apps hitting your environment.  And while some of it is justified, I would venture to say that the lion's share of it is done out of ridiculous posturing and ignorance.  Ok, harsh words, but is it true?

There are a couple different categories of posturing you'll find.  Someone has a personal beef with either a particular vendor or someone else in their company so they refuse to go with the standard application, or maybe someone just loves a vendor and will use them no matter what the cost.  There's also the situation where someone likes an app for some reason, whether it's valid to their business or not, or maybe it's just the only one they know anything about.  And then there's the guy who refuses to use the standard app because he really does know more than the others and he has some valid technical reasons why he doesn't like it.  For whatever reason it's pretty common for different groups in a company to have different apps for the same thing.  One of the most common I can think of right now is database backups.  In many of the shops I've been in, we've had LiteSpeed, Hyperbac, native, WinZip processes, ArcServe, etc.  And all of these for SQL Server backups within different groups of the same company.  It's ridiculous really because not only does it cost more to buy from a vendor that way, but none of these different platforms talk to each other so you can't easily mine them for info, or standardize on even a backup process.  And backups are a simple example, and while it costs some extra money to implement those different solutions, it's not massive.

The massive amounts come in the more complicated apps that actually hit end users.  I've been in shops before where they acquired dozens of locations and allowed the senior management to stay on and run their shops the way they wanted.  So they had 4 different flavors of ERP, and many versions of HR software, every flavor of anti-virus you can think of, and every vendor for their specialized industry app.  And the home office let that happen.  They gave the individual CEOs do whatever they wanted and even when it came down to whether or not corporate could have local admin on their boxes, they said no.  What kind of corporate structure is that?  Who takes over a company and lets them refuse to join the new domain or fold into their employee structure? 

And that kind of cost seems manageable enough doesn't it?  A few thousand here or there really isn't any big deal in the grand scheme of things.  But what they don't realize is that this is a reverse cost pyramid because the money you're spending on IT is increasing with every app.  It's not just a couple thousand for an app.  It's also server cost, and electricity, and support staff, and servers, and upgrades, and programmers, and maintenance fees, and PMs, and disk space, and network bandwidth, and report writers, and on and on.  Bringing on a new app is very expensive when you consider everything that comes with it.  And nobody ever does. 

And the problem is companies let their individual groups push them around and do what they want to do.  They want to make everyone happy and they really don't see the harm in bringing on another app so that these guys over here will happily do their jobs.  You need to standardize.  If you've got more than one app that does the same thing you need to start asking questions.  There are times when you can't or when you don't want to, but those exceptions shouldn't be the rule.  Databases are always a good exception for this rule.  It's nice to say you want to be strictly a SQL Server shop, but all it takes is for the perfect app to come along and all of a sudden you're supporting Oracle too.  That's just the nature of supporting apps.  There are some things that seem to be more sacred though.  Take email for instance.  It's very rare for a lone group in a company to decide they don't want to be on the same email system as everyone else and go with their own.  It's also pretty rare that groups go off in their own direction for the OS.  You just don't see it that often when someone will refuse to go on Windows and insist that his group is going to be on Mac or Linux.  You don't see it with Office either.  Most of the time, the company buys these licenses in bulk and everyone in the company uses them even if they're not that happy about it. 

So what's the difference?    Companies have proven that they're willing to put their foot down and centralize that kind of purchasing for some apps, so why not for others?  Why is database backup (and the others) afforded a special status? My guess is because email is something everybody is going to use and only a select few will be using the other apps so nobody bothers putting in the effort to standardize.  But just because only a handful of people will be doing the actual admin of the app doesn't mean that it doesn't affect everybody.  Everybody in the company relies on the database backup software whether they know it or not.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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