App Rationalization Is Not About 'Low-Hanging Fruit'

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While agencies often look for quick wins on new administration policies, the application rationalization process is not one of those areas, an official said.

A central part of the administration’s Cloud Smart policy hinges on making strategic moves when migrating—or killing—legacy applications. While agencies across government want to show quick wins on major policies, application rationalization is not an area where agencies should focus on easy problems, according to a federal lead for the effort.

“One of the main things I get people to concentrate on is not doing low-hanging fruit,” Stephen Naumann, senior adviser and data center practitioner with the General Services Administration’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, said during a panel Wednesday hosted by ACT-IAC and the IBM Center for the Business of Government. “That’s too easy. You’re just moving something from one place to another. And really annoying the technicians when you do that if you’re not getting the bang for the buck.”

Focusing on quick wins might offer the appearance of compliance but, in reality, will only make more work for agency IT employees without solving the core problems.

Instead, Naumann said he tells agencies to look for pain points and focus on the apps everyone hates.

“Every organization has something in their enterprise that’s a problem child. Every Monday morning after a change weekend, something’s gone wrong or you’ve had a major outage,” he said. “Look at a problem child and then concentrate on that. If you go through the application rationalization process and you make their lives significantly better—whoever the users are for whatever that problem is—you’ve changed the culture, you’ve gotten buy-in on that.”

Concentrating on that overall strategy instead of short-term gains will garner that buy-in, as well as meet the actual goal of Cloud Smart and the app rationalization effort.

While agencies should focus on big problems, that doesn’t mean the app rationalization process has to be hard. Prior to the final release of Cloud Smart, the Federal CIO Council released the Application Rationalization Playbook, which outlines a six-step process in plain language.

“First thing people think is, ‘Oh, no, here comes another [Office of Management and Budget] policy we have to adhere to.’ But, in reality, application rationalization: Everybody’s already doing it, they just may not realize it,” Naumann said.

For many organizations, the formal framework merely codifies the process they already go through during the app development cycle.

“One of the things I hear is, ‘We need a staff, we need a budget,’” Naumann said. “Well, if you have something in production, you’ve had to identify a business need, you’ve had to develop it, you have to go ask for the budget, you have to install it, you have to go train people and you have to maintain it. And you decided strategically where to put that in your environment. That’s all that we’re doing with application rationalization. But now, instead of looking at one place, we get you to look at many places.”