Why Application Management is more than IT, and why some companies get it wrong

The conventional path to senior IT management, especially in operations, is through the infrastructure hierarchy. It is not at all unusual for people to go from server engineer to team leader to manager to director. That paradigm works fine. But it is based on a view of IT as being a stack of things which either work or don’t work, which have a defined cost and value, and which have an obvious lifecycle driven principally by depreciation policies.

None of that helps when managing applications.

Firstly, there is the obvious issue that there is no ‘thing’ to manage. Rather than physical assets (or virtual ones simulating physicality), applications are abstract. The lifecycle is determined by shifting business expectations, by changes both in the business market and in the available software and many other difficult factors to control.

Infrastructure managers often try to impose order on the application world. A good example is performance monitoring. Taking principles that make perfect sense in infrastructure they start monitoring Windows Services and using that as a basis to determine whether an application is working without really getting to grips with what the business needs. That’s like assessing the state of a car by checking the engine, ignoring that the doors won’t unlock.

Another common mistake is to ignore the views of actual users. It is perhaps fair to say that the average business user is not savvy enough to have views on data centre design, and nor should they be. But as a result, infrastructure teams are not used to listening to users when commissioning and managing technology. When running applications many senior IT people take the same approach, viewing the delivery of a bunch of servers with some software installed as a successful project. Whether the software is usable, liked by the user community or fit for purpose is a secondary factor (this is also why classic PMO delivery often leaves business fuming at an apparently successful project).

Application management is very much about the technical. Problem solving, incident resolution, database administration, monitoring and all those good and important things. But it is also about understanding the business and its emotional connections to the software. Its about understanding often vague and ill-defined requirements, and it’s about finding a success with vendors which is measured in more than just number of units sold.

Nick Ellis