To compete successfully in the application economy, every company needs a smoothly functioning app pipeline. Apps, after all, are how companies deliver differentiated value to customers and optimize their brand experience. Apps enable newcomers like Airbnb and Uber to disrupt their markets and oldcomers like Allstate and Chase to stay on top of their sectors. 

But can a company have too many apps? And are there consequences to such “app bloat?”

I believe the answer is “yes” and "yes." Here’s why.

Choking the App Pipeline

Every app generates overhead. To stay competitive, you have to keep updating the app and testing those updates. You have to monitor its availability and performance. You have to ensure that it is provisioned with the right data, infrastructure and APIs. You have to secure it and provide required compliance audit reporting. As each app gets leveraged by other apps, you also create dependencies that add complexity to your management of your overall app portfolio.

All of this overhead consumes the finite capacity of your company’s “app pipeline.” More specifically, it creates choke-points for all apps at your pipeline’s points of least capacity.

For your company, that point may be test/QA. Or it may be security. But no company’s pipeline has infinite capacity at all points.  So if the narrowest point in your app pipeline has capacity for n apps, your n+1th app will adversely impact your entire app portfolio at that point.

Adverse impacts can include lower quality, slower time-to-benefit, sub-optimal performance, weaker security, and—perhaps worst of all—the inability to deliver new high-value on a timely basis. But make no mistake about it. Your app portfolio will suffer—because no company can achieve excellence in every aspect of app delivery for an infinite number of apps.

Anyone who remains unconvinced about the dangers of app bloat need only consider the fact that 70% to 80% of today’s IT budgets are spent on maintaining existing systems, rather than on innovation.  Without the right kind of leadership, the same will happen with apps.

Making Choices

So how can companies avoid app bloat and its consequences?

1) As with any problem, the first step is acknowledging that the problem exists. Business leaders must step back and recognize that their mission is to have the best app portfolio—not the biggest. This is an important cultural shift that requires genuine leadership.

2) Next, leaders should prune older growth from their app portfolios. Many IT organizations continue to postpone the sunsetting of legacy apps that have outlived their usefulness.  But as app portfolios grow in importance and complexity, it becomes more imperative to clear the way for new higher-value apps by removing those of less value.

3) Finally, leaders should establish a value-based discipline for filtering development and roll-out of new apps. Companies are aggressively increasing their capacity for app development.  But that doesn’t mean they should actually max out that capacity. Instead, leadership requires a sober decision-making process that takes into account the total lifetime cost of the total app portfolio—and how that TCO impacts the business.

App bloat is a real issue. Leaders who recognize this will diligently optimize the value returned by every dollar spent on app development and management. Those that don’t will waste resources and compromise their company’s competitive position in the application economy.

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