Chrissy Joslin is a perfectionist. But when she embarked on an application portfolio management project for the Port of San Diego, the need to get every little detail just right got in her way. "I had to surrender my perfectionism," she said, although the trait has served her well as a management analyst in the Port's project management office.
Launching an application portfolio management (APM) project is an arduous undertaking for any organization. It requires project managers to uncover and compile information about every application in production.
It's not uncommon to discover the existence of applications that next to no one is aware of. Another common occurrence is finding out that the organization runs half a dozen applications that perform essentially the same function.
For each application, project managers like Joslin must gather a host of information, none of which exists in one, easy-to-find place. "When you embark on APM, you don't know what you are getting into," she said. For her, that meant relinquishing her perfectionist tendency to work down her to-do list in a logical order.
The Port of San Diego was created by the California state legislature more than 50 years ago, and it has more than 100 applications. Like most organizations, it did not have a handle on which applications it had, who was using them, how much they cost, and each one's value in running the agency.
The Port is responsible for a diverse range of activities, and the breadth and depth of its applications reflect that. It operates two maritime cargo terminals and two cruise ship terminals. It oversees 18 public parks, leases waterfront property to restaurants and hotels, and serves as the environmental steward for the tidelands of San Diego Bay.
Joslin's goal was to gather information on the Port's 100-plus applications and compile that information into a single source. To ease that process, she relied on Innotas Application Portfolio Management. The project management office selected this particular APM offering because it was already using the San Francisco-based company's software for project portfolio management, Joslin said. "We knew we needed to get a better handle on our apps, and Innotas made it easy to do that."
For each application, Joslin set out to uncover key information, including:
- The hardware it's tied to and the cost of said hardware.
- The database it uses -- the Port plans to move away from Oracle and standardize on Microsoft SQL Server.
- The cost of the application.
- The application's maintenance agreement -- including the duration of the agreement, maintenance cost, and a copy of the actual agreement.
- A copy of the RFP agreement issued at the outset of the application project.
If I had to do it all over again, I would create a visual model of how I picture all of the pieces fitting together at the outset of the project.
Port of San Diego
While scanning a list of software maintenance agreements, Joslin came across an application identified as the "San Diego Maritime Information System," and wondered what it was. "I had never heard of it, even though I've been with this organization for 13 years."
Other documents she reviewed made no mention of it. But conversations with colleagues soon revealed that the application is used by boaters to check on tides and currents in San Diego bay, Joslin said. "I'm lucky to have people working with me who have a lot of institutional knowledge." She recommends that other project managers conducting APM inventories pursue colleagues as a source of information.
Joslin uncovered other surprises as well: She discovered the agency owned three different time-tracking applications. "I was shocked because SAP [Time Management] generates our paychecks," she said. But sure enough, she found Port of San Diego employees tracking their hours in other systems. The non-SAP time-tracking applications are likely candidates for retirement, although that decision will not be made until the APM inventory is complete and top management evaluates the options in tandem with IT executives.
Develop a visual model
What would Joslin do differently next time she takes on an APM project? "If I had to do it all over again, I would create a visual model of how I picture all of the pieces fitting together at the outset of the project," she said. For this project, she entered information pertaining to each application as a list, then developed a visual model in her APM software.
But developing a visual model before inputting the information into the APM software, would help provide the much-needed conceptual framework up front, Joslin said. "It forces you to think about how pieces of information about any one application fit together," she said. "That would have been helpful."
The Port of San Diego's APM project remains under way. Some key benefits have already become apparent. "It's given us an idea of which applications we can retire," Joslin said.
There are other payoffs as well. Having a visual map of which databases and applications each application is connected to has been a big help with change management. "When we are thinking about making changes [to software applications], we can see where the dependencies are," Joslin said. For the first time, the Port of San Diego has data to base change-management decisions on, she said. "That lets us make better decisions."
Ever the perfectionist, Joslin is looking forward to completing the APM project. "My goal is simply get all the information I need in one place -- to get the project off the ground. Eventually I'll get there," she said. "And when I do I can start being a perfectionist again."
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