Application inventory as a cost savings initiative

Fourteen months ago my (new) manager approached me with a unique problem. It was discovered that we did a very poor job of keeping track of the applications (software) that we build and/or install within our enterprise environment. This lack of tracking also included all the associated data related to hosting (hardware, configuration and such). That's not to say that some organizations inside our company weren't doing a great job, however, these pockets of excellence were the exception not the norm.

My (now) manager explained that a new group will be forming to help find opportunities to save money in the application and hardware space. His problem for me to solve was that there was no single solution, no one source for data, nor any single location for recording information. As a technical lead with several years of experience in metadata modeling and tracking, he asked me to go off and propose a solution.

As I mentioned we had several pockets inside the company that were tracking data as necessary to perform their job functions. After performing an internal environment scan, analysis and in several cases, engaging with the teams and their tools, I was left holding an empty bag.

What did I discover? There were 12 different applications (out of vendorprovided and internally custom built) and around 14 additional data sources(spreadsheets and databases). Through engagement, it was determined that of the solutions, many were on aged technology and some had lost their developers to other projects. Additionally, most of the existing inventories had only one small piece of the puzzle. They were only concerned with that one bit of information that solved their business need. This meant that enhancing an existing solution was not going to work.

So off to the drawing board I went to try and come up with a quick solution that would enable us to rapidly gather our application inventory, the right way, the first time. My proposal was taken to senior management and four weeks later, three of us had completed the first version of an application which is still in use and the Record of Origin (ROO) for application metadata within our company.

How does this all save us money?

Let me give you an example that anyone can relate to.  Think of this in terms of an inventory of the food in your cupboards. If you go to the store without any knowledge of what food (canned, packaged, frozen or fresh) you have, how do you know what to buy? One of the kids may know you have some corn, another may know you have a pot roast, however, is the inventory accurate? Until you get into all your cabinets and do an inventory, you'll never know what you have. Additionally, without putting a system in place to maintain that inventory, the next time you make dinner, your list is completely useless.

Continuing my food sample, let's say you want to make a lasagna. How do you know if you have the ingredients? How do you know you don't have one already, frozen and ready to heat?

This is the problem we found ourselves in (applications not food). We had no idea if we had overlapping functionality. Our capabilities were meeting our (internal) customer demands, however, were we meeting that need at a higher cost than necessary? Were we asking people to use a tool that was outdated (technically speaking) when a newer, faster, cheaper solution existed in the room next door?

These are some of the problems that we looked to solve. And with this, we have some pretty interesting plans on how to save money. I will cover that in my next entry.

Have you had similar issues at your company? Do you currently have this challenge before you? I'm curious to hear some of those challenges and potential solutions.