What is the right number of applications?

A common question Forrester gets from organizations planning an application rationalization strategy is “How many applications should I aim for?”  It is a good question, but can be symptomatic of an approach where less equals success.  This is very common with executives and senior stakeholders, who often can take this type of singular view of application portfolios.  While it is a straightforward way of examining your application portfolio, inherently it is a binary dimension.  It does not account for the multiple prisms through which organizations should view and make decisions about their application portfolios.


Enterprise architects can help organizations determine where their objectives are placed on a wider range of applications continuums than just the number of applications, for example:

§  Customized Vs Standardized– What degree of customization do my organization's applications require?  What differentiation does standardization provide?  What is the opportunity cost of customization?  What is the right balance for my industry sector ? 

§  Control Vs Freedom – What level of freedom on application choice best serves my organization?  How much control of the application portfolio is appropriate or mandated for my market and what is the cost of this?  What is the cost/benefit of decentralization of choice compared with control of choice? 

§  Centralized Vs Localized – What differentiation is provided by localized applications?  What is the opportunity cost of centralized applications?  What is the right balance of localized differentiation and centralized standardization for my organization?

§  Packaged Vs Developed – What is the capability/agility trade-off of packaged applications compared with developed applications?  What is the comparative investment return on developed applications and packaged applications?      

Application rationalization is not just a one-time activity, it is an ongoing architectural discipline to provision organizational differentiation and value-add through an often changing and growing applications environment.  'Less' may well be the right answer to establishing how many applications are right for an organization.  However, coming to that decision through multiple applications continuums provides a richer perspective on objectives that informs a more rounded approach to application rationalization strategy.   


Do you think this list gives

Do you think this list gives too many 'get out' clauses for rationalisation to be effective? Every application will have someone who loves it and who vigorously defends it. Given that the usual goal of rationalisation is cost reduction, could there be a couple of core questions:
- what value does this application add to the organisation? ideally this would be quantified in some way
- whats the annual TCO of this app?
- if the answer to the second is substantially higher than the first, then rationalise.

of course there will be lots in the middle ground, but it could provide some obvious targets to get started?

Dear James, Thank you for the

Dear James,

Thank you for the comment - interesting perspective.

Your point about some applications having staunch defenders is well taken - as is said, nobody's baby is ugly! I agree that high cost/low value applications make good rationalization candidates. However, once those 'low hanging fruit' have been picked, it quickly can become more challenging. For example, building support for rationalization when there is entrenched use of an application, or where there are technical complexities that are costly or time-consuming to unpick. These types of issues can stall any rationalization programme - regardless of the cost argument. Building a broader justification matrix to include other dimensions, I think builds a richer set of arguments that can help move a programme forward in the face of more challenging obstacles.

Thank you again for your feedback.

Best Regards,