Digital businesses rely on well-designed and well-run application ecosystems to remain competitive.
But enterprises have become bogged down in a swamp of technology stacks and layered integrations. They cannot move quickly or safely due to the hidden risks in their entangled systems. They have business-critical applications spread over a wide territory, such as in hybrid clouds and across the IoT edge. They lack a complete and accurate understanding of the landscape of connections between applications and infrastructure dependencies.
Application dependency mapping (ADM) is a process that discovers, maps, and models your application environment. First, ADM discovers business application components and the infrastructure supporting them. ADM then maps the relationships between assets and creates a visual model of these dependencies.
It is like sending out scouts and surveying key landmarks in your environment, but without getting into the weeds of network scanning and incurring the overhead of application performance monitoring.
A good dependency map clears away the fog to enable you to make strategic decisions.
“You are making too many uninformed decisions if you don’t have a solid application dependency map.” – Ted DiMontova, Field Chief Technology Officer
Investing in application dependency mapping helps you operate safer, better, and faster.
Safer by reducing risk. If you are not exactly sure what assets you have, it is hard to manage your applications and the infrastructure that supports them. A good application dependency map reduces your risk from potential data breaches, saves money when you safely decommission things, and makes sure you are ready for any compliance questions. ADM helps you with disaster recovery and recovering from ransomware.
Better by increasing availability and reliability. Service outages can lead to slow and painful troubleshooting. When an outage occurs, it can be time-consuming for the team to understand the root cause without a shared understanding of the whole system. A good application dependency map shows everyone how things are related so the team can get the business-critical applications up and running again without relying on an individual’s “tribal knowledge”. Faster recovery from outages is the immediate benefit, but the map pays off in the long haul when you use it to prevent performance issues and other problems in the first place. ADM helps you with configuration management and observability.
Faster by shortening the time to market. For digital transformation projects, like cloud migrations to support a new business strategy or when acquiring a new company, there are a lot of moving parts, any of which could trip up a big project. A good application dependency map gives you the information you need to be sure you are migrating the right set of applications in the right order. Without a deep understanding of the application relationships with each other and your infrastructure, you may not be able to launch new services quickly. The map can shed light on the technical debt that never seems to get prioritized, helping you develop a roadmap that increases your digital agility.
“You could just unplug a server and see who complains. No, application dependency mapping is a much better idea.” – Dan Newman, Field Chief Technology Officer
ADM used to be time-consuming, manual, and error prone. Organizations shunned ADM because it was both difficult and costly. New tools and techniques have made it quicker and easier to outsource ADM, lowering the barrier to entry and allowing for faster benefits realization.
To survive in the modern era, enterprises must be able see their application surroundings clearly to make effective decisions and rapidly adapt to take advantage of opportunities. ADM may not seem sexy, but it provides the foundation that enables enterprises to improve quality while moving fast and safely in a digital world.
After having made the case for ADM, you will want to plan your ADM project, and over time, establish an ADM program. Our subject matter experts offered the following pieces of advice.
Prioritize people over tooling. Tools generate data, people create knowledge. A tool indexing your environment can only take you so far. You need the right people using the tool to get value from it. ADM aims to create a true understanding of your environment—and that requires experts who can clear the fog with their insights.
Take a collaborative approach to classification. An often-overlooked business value comes from the classification of the assets, making sense of it all, and visualizing it. The way you categorize your servers (dev vs. production, for example) changes the way you think about them and thus how you may want to manage them for greatest business impact. Running a scanning tool won’t magically result in clear thinking. The ADM project team should collaborate in interactive discussions to develop clear classifications rooted in the business context. Put the time into the plan for architecting a useful map and be ready for some of the strategic business decisions it triggers.
“You need strong champions to push through the organizational challenges, keep momentum going, and get value from all of the other activities in the roadmap.” – Rowan Wakeford, Senior Managing Consultant, Transformative Services
Set a baseline and keep it up to date. Realize that ADM is an ongoing activity with many different cases where you will focus on it. You may do it specifically to support a big business event, like an acquisition. ADM to support due diligence can help clarify costs, timelines, and overall risk prior to a purchase. With constantly changing systems, you cannot do ADM just once and make decisions based on a static map. A combination of fog-clearing gusts and constant breezes is needed.
Plan for new discoveries. Be prepared to engage with a wide variety of stakeholders as you discover more about your application terrain. Finding insecure data repositories will require you to get legal and security teams involved. You probably will discover some “hidden gems,” like citizen-developed apps. You will be surprised by deprecated operating systems and ancient databases. You won’t know who all you must engage with upfront, but armed with your map, you will be able to enlighten others who need to act.
Build a digital agility business case around ADM. Make a business case for not just doing ADM but getting value from all the things that you can do better with a great dependency map. Cost optimization. Disaster recovery planning. Application rationalization. Workload optimization. Migration planning. Strategic architectures to guide future investments. Digital transformation. You are doing more than making a list of what you have, old and new. You are setting the stage for your digital agility roadmap.
Don’t underestimate the politics and turf wars. You will encounter company politics with ADM. Some groups may fight hard to protect their tribal knowledge or may be unwilling to expose their unreliable systems. Stakeholders may drag their feet or refuse to participate because they want their part to remain a bit foggy. You might need an executive who is driving change to mandate involvement.
Don’t fixate on “free.” Free isn’t free. There are free tools out there for mapping infrastructure elements, but the infrastructure alone is not the important part. Modern ADM tools help you understand capacity, utilization, and configuration. The free tools often require your staff to work harder—wasting their time on the grunt work when they should be focused on adding more strategic value to your map.
“It is the people who make application dependency mapping succeed or fail. Get help from someone who has done it a lot and can teach your staff to excel at it.” – Andy Neale, Director, Transformative Services
With ADM, the end goal is to clear the fog in your application environment to reduce risk, increase quality, and move faster. The process of doing application dependency mapping will also shed light on turf battles, confusing categories, resource allocations, and strategic investments. Organizations that get ADM right will gain a head start on their journey to digital agility.
Keith Instone has been practicing user experience for over 30 years, spanning academia (studying the science of human interaction with technology), industry (with IBM), and as a consultant (to startups, Fortune 100 companies, and in between).