Application Platform Optimization

Written by LUMINIS. Posted in Integration and Convergence

Business growth in today's highly competitive environment requires both an IT application platform and IT infrastructure that will deliver the manageability, security, interoperability, and connectivity.


Initially you may struggle to get hold of the concept 'Application Platform Optimization'. It states only one thing that your business applications (line-of-business applications) should work together for one single purpose: to further your business goals. So why does it become that they seem to work on cross-purposes sometimes?

Suppose your company is like others who have implemented various line of business applications sourced from various IT vendors, e.g., Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, etc. Suppose your company also made the purchasing-decisions which were spread across time-horizons and were uncoordinated and undisciplined. Suppose your company also treated IT as a cost-centre, not a strategic asset. Add the website or web-portal, the legacy platform and the custom made applications for various more purposes of the functions/businesses to the equation. Ah! You are then having a bunch disconnected application platforms and would surely be toiling hard, very hard in fact, to get the best of your diverse application platforms. You must be struggling badly to achieve strong coordination of architecture, development, and/or operational management across these platforms.

Successful businesses know that enterprise business applications can cut costs and provide real-time data for critical decisions and strategic goals. However, most organizations struggle with their current systems' architecture which results in inaccurate data and redundant or manual processes. What happens then is that IT staff at companies often spends more time maintaining obsolete or disparate systems instead of creating new value or implementing strategic applications.

 

Forrester's Digital Business Architecture

Application platforms are a key IT foundation for most enterprises because business executives, managers, and professionals rely on the infrastructure software to run critical applications. Forrester has long recommended that enterprises should purchase application server platforms and suites, and shift their enterprise architectures to what they have called the Digital Business Architecture.

Forrester has long advocated the purchase of products that integrate the major categories of platform software for obtaining new levels of development, administration, and operational efficiency.

As a top-level conceptual model for planning the future of your technology and architecture, Digital Business Architecture aligns your planning with a new reality: More and more, the design of your business must be directly reflected in the design of your technology.

The business goals for each technology domain are the basis for a taxonomy of seven major strategic platforms for digital business:

  1. Service Oriented Application (SOA) platform
  2. Information fabric
  3. Interaction platform
  4. Information Workplace
  5. Unified communications platform
  6. Business service management platform
  7. Business design platform.

Along with these are six sub-platforms for event management, business process management, business rules, analytics, configuration management, and security. The strategic platforms for digital business provide focal points around which you can structure and design the future of your technology base.

Digital Business Architecture suggested that companies should adopt this approach for primarily three reasons:

  1. Many applications require the combined features of today's separate platform categories.
  2. A cohesive architecture affords opportunities to integrate operations across platforms and across the four major domains of Interactions, Business Services, Organic IT (data center), and Network.
  3. Keeping pace with business change at an efficient cost requires common and linked metadata across platform categories.

 

Microsoft's Application Platform Optimization Model

Similarly, Microsoft's APO Model also outlines a set of technology practices required for customers to move from 'Basic' use of an application platform technology through three higher levels of usage, each of which should provide greater cost efficiencies and effectiveness. The three additional levels in Microsoft's APO Model are Standardized, Advanced, and Dynamic.

In its model, Microsoft defines "application platform" as the set of servers and tools required to design, develop, and run a variety of business applications. The application platform software categories elaborated in Microsoft's Application Platform Optimization model include:

  1. Application servers, including the Windows Server.
  2. Portal servers and related products.
  3. SOA and business process management platforms.
  4. Data infrastructure, including database servers.
  5. Business intelligence.
  6. Application development tools for the above categories.

Without any suspicion, application platforms are a key IT foundation for most enterprises. Business executives, managers, and professionals totally rely on this infrastructure software to run critical applications in accounting, selling, supply chain, customer care, manufacturing, and many other areas. The definitions of application platform vary depending on the type of application. In general, an application platform is either an integrated product or a product suite that includes an application server, a portal server, and software for SOA, business process management (BPM), and application integration, along with development tools. Some platforms include a database and business intelligence software for query, reporting, and analysis too.

Even enterprises that rely heavily on packaged applications rather than custom, purpose-built applications have to ensure that the underlying platform is reliable, secure, cost-efficient, and can evolve as the business changes. Increasingly, application buyers are favoring products based on solid platforms conforming to either the .NET or Java interfaces. Most enterprises select one of these two platform foundations as the basis for the majority of their custom development and packaged application deployments.

APO Model suggests that enterprises should buy products that integrate these categories of software, each of which can be purchased separately. Convergence of platform software promises new levels of development, administration, and operational efficiencies. Converged application platforms shift responsibility for integrating multiple types of platforms from the customer to the vendor. These converged application platforms promise improved installation, configuration, and operational management, compared with collections of best-of-breed platforms. Also, vendors can build development tools for converged platforms that span a range of features, making it easier to combine today's separate features within individual applications.

Key Challenges

The understanding of Application Platform Model provides you a solid tool for an objective assessment of selected business processes. The APO Model helps you deconstruct large problems and pinpoint root causes to better align applications and infrastructure investments. Whether your goal is to buy a new application, extend an existing application, or build one in-house, the APO Model makes it easier to quickly translate business objectives into IT projects that will add value to your business.

Despite of immense benefits, the real-life adoption of this approach poses strongest challenges to the company. Some existing practices & constraints hindering the optimization of application platform at companies are:

It is not that they don't see the promise of platform convergence. They expect it to occur but still buy individual platform products rather than application platform suites. Still, the norm for enterprises is buying application platforms in parts, not as a whole. For convergence to become the norm across the six platform categories suggested by APO model, the decision-making must be coordinated among all or most of the six categories.

 

To Bring About Platform Convergence

Enterprise seeking the convergence or optimization of application platforms must start with Business Gap Assessment and the dive deeper into Application Gap Assessment.

Business Gap Assessment
The first part of this process is the Business Gap Assessment. You focus on alignment of your key business processes and the applications that support them. This assessment is designed to capture and define the critical business issues and industry-specific attributes that are causing you the most significant challenges.

Application Gap Assessment
The second part of the assessment process focuses on the applications that support these critical business issues. This assessment is needed to help deconstruct complex business applications into smaller, more consumable parts to help you prioritize investments and resources to deliver the maximum business value.

Based upon the key understanding of APO model, we can safely derive that a top-of-the class Application Platform Optimization solution should offer the following set of capabilities:

 

It's Not Just Where You Are, but Where You Are Going

The APO model can be understood like a technique for profiling an organization's maturity with respect to its application infrastructure, architecture, and development practices. The goal of this model is to give organizations a road map for optimizing their agility in providing IT solutions to meet the needs of the business.

The APO model uses the following four profiles of an organization's maturity:

  1. Basic—Organizations treat software as a cost. They have largely siloed applications with little integration or reuse. The applications that they do have might be on a variety of platforms. They do not have consistent standards for infrastructure or development techniques; they do not have a consistent architectural vision.
  2. Standardized—Organizations still treat software as a cost, but they have taken steps to improve efficiencies. They have an architectural vision and try to consider opportunities for reuse. They have started to integrate some applications, but they are mostly point-to-point integrations.
  3. Advanced—Organizations treat software as a business enabler. They have dedicated architects and a clear architectural vision. They have many services and achieve a high level of reuse. All core business processes are automated and monitored. They use a centralized, packaged integration platform.
  4. Dynamic—Organizations treat software as a strategic asset. They have a very mature SOA in vision and implementation. They have clear processes for dynamically versioning and redeploying services. The can quickly adapt to business requirements changes, and can quickly integrate with new business partners.

Somewhat implicit in the APIO model is the notion that every organization would aspire to move towards the Dynamic profile. In reality, it depends on the nature of the business and the philosophy of management regarding technology. Some businesses might be completely satisfied to stay in the Basic or Standardized profile. Two different organizations might well make different choices—each making the right choice for its organizational profile.
You should consider the current profile, as well as the near-term and long-term goals, with the near-term goal being the most important. An organization in the Basic profile, with a desire to be in the Dynamic profile eventually, might choose wisely to focus initially on getting into the Standardized profile; so, its technology decisions should mostly be consistent with the Standardized profile.

Converged platforms contain a broad range of functions, raising the complexity of both application development and ongoing management and operations. We cannot expect to develop a new class of individuals who can master all of these functions. Hence, interdisciplinary teams and application lifecycle management will be essential.

 

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