Application Life Cycle

One of the major long-term IS cost items for any business is the staff needed to maintain applications. In this context, maintenance means ongoing changes and enhancements to applications in response to changing user requirements. Even organizations that use packaged software will need personnel to perform these tasks.

The typical software application experiences a distinct U-curve pattern of demand for changes and enhancements over time. Demand is relatively high early in the cycle as the application is shaken down. Change and enhancement frequency then decline, before increasing again at a later stage as the application becomes progressively less appropriate for user requirements.

The frequency of application change and enhancement is affected by change in such factors as organizational structures and work patterns. The level may remain low if the business operates in a reasonably stable manner. Because all applications age and eventually become obsolete, increases are inevitable. The main variable is how long this takes, not whether it occurs.

The application life cycle has important implications for IS costs. Once the shakedown phase is completed, a new application usually requires comparatively little application maintenance overhead. However, at some point maintenance requirements usually escalate, and so will the required staffing level.

Measuring application maintenance requirements for limited periods gives a highly misleading impression of long-term costs. Application maintenance costs eventually become excessive if organizations do not redevelop or replace applications on an ongoing basis. Moreover, where most or all of the applications portfolio is aged (which is the case in many less-sophisticated mainframe and minicomputer installations), the IS staff will be dedicated predominantly to maintenance rather than to developing new applications.

As an applications portfolio ages, IS managers face a straightforward choice between spending to develop or reengineer applications or accepting user dissatisfaction with existing applications. Failure to make this choice means an implicit decision in favor of high maintenance costs, user dissatisfaction, and eventually a more radical — and expensive — solution to the problem.

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Project Management Made Easy

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