CIOs need a strong, well researched business analysis capability in their IT department before they eliminate specific applications just to appease a mandate to reduce costs or a footprint in the application space, said Wilcox.

“You have to identify best consolidation candidates, study the licensing costs and savings over time,” Wilcox said. You can make a conscious decision to live without certain features, she said, “but it shouldn’t be unconscious and then you find out later that you’ve given them up.”

Part of the research process involves mapping the software to business functions and identify capability gaps, said Wilcox. If not, organizations sometimes come across unintended consequences of a consolidation. For example, it will install a new platform, then realize that for some reason it can’t migrate data out of the old platform or that it is obligated to pay for the older systems’ licenses for the next three years. An application portfolio management solution could help, she said, but it mainly requires having conversations with people.

Tackle Low-Hanging Fruit First

When Sandie Terry took the position of CIO in southwestern Virginia’s Franklin County eight years ago, one of her first projects was taking an inventory of applications. All of them were developed in-house anywhere from 10 to 30 years ago, many involving COBOL running in a Windows environment. Most of the applications were stovepiped, with data entry duplicated in different systems.

During her tenure as CIO, she has systematically eliminated dozens of applications and replaced them with a handful of commercial solutions that are more tightly integrated and tied into the county GIS.

“First, I put in a help desk tracking function to see which applications required most handholding by IT and which had the highest overhead,” she said. “Some required a lot of work for my staff to handle the business processes because they weren’t end-user friendly.”

Before replacing them, Terry took a spreadsheet of all her applications to a peer group called Virginia Local Government IT Executives. “I asked other county CIOs what they were using for those functions,” she said. “From their answers I could see if there were viable commercial offerings and a clear market leader,” she said.

Franklin County’s work involving land management staff and software is a good example of how application consolidation can help improve business processes. In January 2008, a new land management system was installed that called for a huge cultural change. “One of my IT people spent 60 days in that functional area modifying their business processes to better use the system,” Terry said.

Previously one group had its own software to handle building permits and inspections while another group used different software to handle zoning applications. “Each had its own stovepiped application and didn’t share data,” she recalled. “This new commercial land management solution replaces both of those with one tightly integrated system, and in fact the employees are now in one physical space.”

Terry’s advice to other CIOs who are just starting down this road? “Tackle the low-hanging fruit first,” she said. “Let your team in IT gradually get better at implementing these changes, especially if staff in functional areas are being consolidated at the same time.”

A Road Map for Kansas

Application consolidation is a huge undertaking that does not happen overnight. In October 2010, the Office of the Chief Information Technology Architect of Kansas prepared an IT consolidation feasibility study at the request of the state Legislature.

Among other things, the report recommended that Kansas develop a consolidation strategy and road map for all middleware applications used by state agencies, including document management, workflow, enterprise service buses, business intelligence, call center, customer relationship management and data warehouse.

“We are still in the studying and planning stage, although we have received positive feedback from the legislative group that requested the report and the new administration,” said Bill Roth, the state’s chief information technology architect. His office found six different products in use after just looking into document management systems. “If we start to look at things from an enterprise level, we can help stabilize investment in IT,” he said. “But it is a big task, and we have to develop a framework and attack it one step at a time.”

David Raths  |  contributing writer