, on June 19, 2019, 09:42 AM

Application Lifecycle Management for the Digital Age

A Roadmap for Accelerating Factory Digitization

This blog describes how to improve existing application maintenance and support capabilities in a way that supports your factory’s manufacturing digitization roadmap and delivers tangible benefits early on in your digital transformation journey.

Seeing the Opportunity in Legacy Application Support

With the accelerated adoption of IT in manufacturing environments, “digitization” is one of the latest manufacturing buzzwords. For Manufacturing Operations managers and CIOs, that means lifecycle management of both existing and future applications in the IT-OT (operational technology) layer is rapidly becoming a critical area of focus. One of the challenges Manufacturing Operations and CIOs face when embarking on digitization is how to use their limited manufacturing-IT budgets to ensure disruption-free operations to legacy applications and IT networks, while also focusing on innovating future IT landscapes.

At SYSTEMA, we firmly believe that application lifecycle maintenance, when executed strategically, presents a significant opportunity to extend the life of existing applications, reduce the cost of maintenance and enable upgrades and innovation at the same time.

A Roadmap to Digital-Age Application Lifecycle Management (ALM)

The following roadmap outlines how to transform legacy application support into digital-age ALM, largely through the strategic deployment of existing IT factory-support resources. Implementing the following steps will help you address both the challenges you face in your current IT landscape and accelerate the speed with which you can reach your future state and reap the benefits of your digital roadmap.

Before You Begin: Assembling the Right Resources

SYSTEMA has worked closely with manufacturing IT departments around the world on application support and development. We believe that application maintenance is not a trivial task that can or should be approached by getting more resources involved.

Based on our experience, the factories most successful in executing their digital roadmaps employ application support resources with a deep and broad understanding of the underlying manufacturing and business processes.

Using resources with these capabilities minimizes support costs, ensures application continuity and improves resource allocation towards achieving manufacturing digitization.

These key application management resources will be involved in putting existing manufacturing processes and applications (i.e. the “status quo”) through the steps outlined below. These steps help to realign both processes and legacy applications with overall company goals, often (re-)defining, simplifying and automating processes along the way. These improved processes and applications are key to ensuring continuity, reducing costs and improving resource allocation towards digitization.

As-Is and To-Be Application Landscape Blueprint

As a preparatory step, the offices of the CIO and Manufacturing Operations will deploy working teams to first inventory all applications within the manufacturing landscape, and subsequently determine where each application fits within the strategic roadmap. A commonly used framework is Gartner’s TIME model, used to map applications into four quadrants (Tolerate, Invest, Migrate, Eliminate). Legacy applications may very well be outdated from a technology perspective, but due to the nature of their business function a decision is made to either extend them, or to encapsulate them using modern technology frameworks thus allowing them to be extended, or in the future migrated. Developing the As-Is and To-Be IT Blueprint allows IT and Manufacturing to develop a basis in which invest / divest decisions are made with assurance that both perspectives are represented.

Ready, Set, Go: The Five Steps to Digital-Age ALM

Step 1: Current-State gap analysis, and stabilization plan to reduce application support expenses

Investment in your go-forward legacy applications to make them more robust can be an important step toward freeing up your IT resources with deep knowledge of your manufacturing IT environment.

  1. Careful analysis of existing tickets and recurring errors.
  2. Automation of existing development and maintenance processes, such as testing.
  3. Pro-active and predictive monitoring to identify issues earlier and support data-driven decision-making.
  4. Continuous improvement of the system by defining time-to-fix thresholds and Business-Level Agreements to reduce overall down time.

Step 2: Application digitization

During this step, information and knowledge gained in Step 1 provide a basis for making data-informed decisions regarding potential application upgrades or digitization. These efforts can help prepare organizations for digitization efforts and ready the applications for future retirement.

  1. Develop simple user interfaces for the shop floor in order to enable standardized data collection.
  2. “Modernize” applications through “minor enhancements” using the newest, go-forward technologies to fix existing issues. These small “wins” can also help remove psychological “digitization barriers” often found within an organization.
  3. Encapsulate and isolate legacy systems using modern technology frameworks. This allows the legacy or rogue-developed systems to be incrementally integrated, modernized, and harmonized with the strategic IT-landscape vision, while also preparing them for migration or decommissioning.

Step 3: Effective documentation through modeling

You’ve already had success in reducing support costs and freeing up key resources. Now when you find defective data, it will often be traced back to a poorly designed business function. Step 3 is a key component in achieving your digitization goals and it is important that you have the requisite mapping and modeling expertise involved.

  1. Involve a core team of business domain and application support experts.
  2. Continue to develop detailed maps of the overall business view of the system against an IT-centric view to further iterate the To-Be perspective.
  3. Create function and data models as a “single source of truth”. When defective or “bad” data is identified, do not be surprised when the source is identified to be a poorly designed business process.

Step 4: Waste elimination

Your high-functioning team of domain and application experts will use the function and data models developed in Step 3 as a basis for identifying waste using value stream mapping. Value stream mapping is a powerful visual tool for identifying system “inefficiencies”. This step is critical to optimizing business processes and often leads to a streamlined application landscape.

  1. Identify and remove process inefficiencies by modifying and/or retiring applications.
  2. Continue to improve user experience through deployment of rich UI interfaces.
  3. Provide effective end-user training using the enhanced documentation developed in prior steps.

Step 5: Data mining

Artifacts created above are combined with existent data in different ways to create “meaningful insights”. Our process at SYSTEMA is to do the following:

  1. Continue to iterate and elaborate the To-Be IT landscape based on the knowledge built within the prior steps. Further elaborate the TIME model (Tolerate, Invest, Migrate, Eliminate).
  2. Apply machine learning techniques to reduce incidents.
  3. Identify patterns and hidden relationships through hypotheses testing and knowledge discovery and then apply these insights to existing applications and systems. Often when deployed these improvements lead to a reduction in costs and/or increases in actual revenue.

Benefits of a Coherent, Digital-Age ALM Strategy

We have repeatedly observed that manufacturers who adopt these fundamental changes to application lifecycle maintenance shift the perception and paradigm of application management from a non-value generating expense to an enabler for innovation and digitalization.

The benefits of digital-age application management and support include:

  • Extended life of existing applications.
  • Reduced complexity of the IT manufacturing environment.
  • A stable foundation for automation and future upgrades.
  • Reduced risk inherent in legacy modernization, through the use of an incremental approach.
  • Optimization of the organization’s manufacturing-IT budget.

At SYSTEMA, we have adopted this systematic, holistic approach to application maintenance and support as a means to help manufacturers reduce the risks associated with their Manufacturing IT digitization programs and gain a competitive edge through seamless legacy modernization. We have proven experience in ALM for manufacturing IT environments, and we are on the vanguard of companies applying business-process modeling, function and data models, and machine learning to application lifecycle management and support.

For more information regarding how to approach manufacturing automation strategies, check out SYSTEMAs guide to digital transformation.


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