Does Application Ageing Equate to Stability?

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Applications being live since years need not necessarily mean that they are stable. There are definitely a few factors which support the theory that as wine gets older, it gets better! Some selected factors which favor this theory are 1. Time helps in ironing out the bugs from the implementation, 2. Helps the product vendor […]

Applications being live since years need not necessarily mean that they are stable. There are definitely a few factors which support the theory that as wine gets older, it gets better! Some selected factors which favor this theory are 1. Time helps in ironing out the bugs from the implementation, 2. Helps the product vendor to understand the market needs and make necessary corrections in its product and pass on the benefit to the customer, 3. Users get more comfortable in using the system with time and the user awareness related problems reduce considerably, 4. Processes get clearer and issues pertaining to them streamline.

However there are other factors, and maybe much more in numbers, which do not support the above theory of applications getting stabilized over time. A few of them are discussed below:

The Product Itself: the maturity and stability of the product is driven by its serviceability and its effectiveness. Companies may launch a product which is not able to service the complete requirement of a customer or the industry resulting in continuous changes to the product which in turn forces the customer to stay aligned with the new releases. This frequent product changes results in state of constant alteration for its users. A recent example is that of Google Glass which was withdrawn from the market due to multiple reasons like affordability, questions on value that it would deliver to the consumer, perceived threat to privacy and having a low fashion quotient. 

Technological Advancements: With the advancements in technology, both the product vendor as well as customer needs to converge to the latest trend in the market. Resultant effect is changes in the way things were being done earlier either at a product level, or on the skills front or venturing into a new business segment or region for more business. For example the advent of enterprise mobility solutions would require companies to start developing and deploying mobile based applications. This in turn will require application user interfaces to be transformed, introduction of new skills for developing and maintaining these applications and also would demand stringent data security measures. Today, mobile based computing is posing a huge threat to the traditional PC based. Gartner predicts by 2015 a total of 320 million tablet sales, versus just 316 million PC sales (desktops and laptops)i . Lot of the PC based application UI’s needs to be re-created for this new technology users.

Changing Business Needs: Ever changing demands of the customer results in continuous changes to business process, introduction of new services and products and new ways of doing business. This requires changes to the already developed programs and applications. At times the business logics get so complex that high amount of customization has to be built in to cater to these needs. Customized applications come with inherent maintenance challenges as it requires high amount of custom documentation to be maintained throughout its lifecycle. Customization also adds in dependency on stringent testing procedures. The amount of effort that the product vendor spends in full proofing its applications, takes a hit with every complex customization.

Workforce: Attrition, change of roles, promotions etc. lead to constant introduction of fresh eyes who use the applications. These factors are not just limited to the user organization but also extend to the support and the product organization. Knowledge transfer plays a crucial role in retaining the know how in such cases. Even with a fair amount of knowledge transfer, the experience that one gains over a period of time is something which barely gets recorded in the documents and the impact of this loss of information is the biggest in terms of stabilizing applications. The attrition rate in the ITES industry is the highest at 17% compared to that of the other industries like Financial Services, advertising media etcii. This means that approximately within a span of five years you will most likely have a fairly new set of team members who would use, develop or operate the applications.

Phased vs. Big bang: The Big bang adoption is the instant changeover to a new system on a given date. The big bang approach is a bit riskier than the phased approach as there are fewer learning opportunities incorporated within the approach. Hershey’s Big Bang ERP implementation failure is an example of how it missed fulfilling $100 million worth of orders while inventory was available, resulting in 19% drop in quarterly profits and 8% decline in stock priceiii. There are umpteen instances when a customer wants to play safe and decides to pilot an application to a selected set of users (business unit / region / country). As the acceptance of the application increases it decides to take it to the remaining set of users. This phased approach seeds in the instability as the new set of users require additional time for stabilization. Companies which have embarked on an inorganic growth plan, can also face this challenge wherein even if an application has been around for quite some time, due to a new set of users getting added on a regular basis the overall application landscape takes time to stabilize. Similarly, sometimes customers select only partial functionalities to be implemented while continuing to use the legacy system for the remaining scope. However, with time they eventually need to decide to move to a consolidated environment which subsequently results in introduction of new functionalities to replace the legacy system. 

The diagram below attempts to capture selected parameters on an indicative timescale which contribute towards the application stability. For example, an immature product can drag stability down and adversely impact the user acceptance of the new system early on in the lifecycle. Conversely the earlier the user gets comfortable in the application the higher is the possibility of stabilizing the applications at process as well as at a product level. Attrition can chip in once the novelty factor subsides which can happen within short to midterm period. Business changes and technological impact are generally considered in the application pre-selection criteria and hence the effect of these factors may not be seen in the short to medium term period. However with time both these factors will demand a relook at the applications and could drive substantial changes in the current application stack. The application will typically navigate itself through the effects of these parameters, and the actual impact on its stability needs to carefully assessed at that point of time.

iIn 2015tablet sales will finally surpass PC’s fulfilling Steve Job’s post-PC prophecy, Sebastian Anthony, 2014
iiIndian ITES Industry and Employee Attrition – An Overview, Indian Journal of Applied Research, Volume 4, Issue 3, Mar 2014
iiiCase Study on Hershey’s ERP implementation failure: The importance of Testing & Scheduling, Jonathan Gross, Pemeco Consulting

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