What is an application network?

What is an application network

Change creates the necessity for an application network

We are going through an unprecedented period of change. The business world has changed. Your customer landscape has changed. Your competitive landscape has changed; in fact, the entire enterprise ecosystem has changed. That only leaves one more thing to change and that's you.  Organizations are struggling with how to cope with this. There is a way forward, but it is not just about technology, it is also about making a wholesale change in the way IT and the business work together with technology. The way for businesses to thrive amidst disruption is to create an application network. 

Whenever we speak to CIOs and other IT executives, the first thing they say is that they need to move faster. The second thing they say is that the delivery capacity within their IT organization is not meeting the demand. The reality is that IT hasn't been invested in as heavily in the previous ten years as it has in the last two or three years. IT delivery capacity is actually at a constant in most organizations, yet demands from the business keep going up. It has to manage cloud and SaaS, big data analytics, you have mobiles, a key application platform now in your organization, and IoT is right around the corner. 

The big worry, of course, is competition. Most businesses know that they need to improve their technology solutions - they need to improve the channels they engage with their stakeholders on, they need to improve their business operations, and they need to innovate. IT is at the center of all this. But the challenge is that IT is still very centralized. There is no way that a centralized IT organization can deliver on everything the business wants and needs - it’s creating an IT delivery gap. Most CIOs we speak to will actually say that they are behind what they need to deliver on and they know there is more coming. An application network can solve the IT delivery gap.

The definition of an application network

To solve these problems, you have to change the way you think about connecting your applications, data, and devices because this isn't going to get any easier. the road to hell in this landscape is to do quick point-to-point connections because you have to get this project X out really quickly. You say, "I'm going to connect these three systems together". The problem with doing that is as you do that again and again over time, you create this tight interlocking of applications and data inside your organization. This completely removes your ability to move fast and change anything. 

A better approach an application network. An application network is pretty simple. It is a group of applications, data, devices that are connected through APIs that expose some or all of their assets on the network. That network allows other consumers from other parts of the business to come in and discover and use those assets. Creating an application network is a matter of creating an organizational discipline of creating reusable assets defined around consumption models.   These assets can get used and reused in different ways inside your organization. Understanding that is going to happen will help you shake the way you define the consumption model for that asset. Then, you build connections between these assets. This has to be emergent. This has to be from the ground up. You can only build things as you need them. You can't go and try and build something big and hopefully people come. That doesn't work. What you need to do is allow those in your business to build what is needed and then expose it to the rest of the organization to be reused. 

You do this in the application network by defining simple abstractions. The API is probably the best abstraction we have in the enterprise for exchanging information between two parties. And that is exactly what you are doing — you are exchanging between other applications. For example, the customer service representatives are exchanging information between the BI department, who is doing analytics reporting. Another group inside your business is exchanging information with your partners who are doing B2B transactions with you. APIs are the perfect model for exchange because they provide a well defined definition of the provider and the consumers and they provide a way for you to manage that interaction very closely.

Once this discipline is established in your organization, you start to get a different type of landscape — an application network. What emerges out of this landscape is this idea of the application The nice thing about the way this actually comes about is because in your projects, every time you connect two applications together you think about opening up an API for the data you're releasing. It is organized around well defined units of value. It emerges bottoms up. This isn't a big strategy that everyone has to adhere to, unlike a traditional SOA initiative. You define some simple paradigms for your development teams to work towards. You have enablement teams, to help those organizations to understand how to build these things. Everything that you post in the application network is rediscover-able, it's managed, it's governed, it's secured. You can take them as is or you can that building block, add to it, and publish a new building. You start to let other people in the organization add value.

An application network is not an architecture. It's a set of building blocks that you can build architectures on top of. The application network bends, it does not break. You can plug things in and unplug them easily. When you plug your application in, it exposes some or even all of its assets that have been added to it. Than you can control those assets. You can also unplug things and understand how the change affects your business quickly. 

An application network is not simply about technology

An application network is not just about building applications and sticking them together with APIs. What it really represents is a cultural shift. Our customers and  prospects, talk to us about "how do you deliver APIs and micro services". How do we organize ourselves to be agile? But the key to achieving agility is not how many assets you have on the network but, rather, how many consumers are getting value from the network. The consumption model is critical here. This is what makes it quite different from prior approaches like SOA. 

It’s a big shift from the way IT traditionally operates. The IT organization now becomes not just a production of assets but also an enabler for the rest of the business to consume those assets. The business also has to change because they now are on the hook for delivering some of their own capabilities, some of their own projects. The focus here is building communities and developments around certain capabilities inside your organization. Those capabilities will allow the business to self serve and collaborate  with other groups inside your organization to enable the delivery of multiple IT projects. Not to deliver the projects themselves but to enable other people to get successful with the assets. This is how the application network helps IT increase its capacity and close the delivery gap. 

An example of why an application network is necessary

Let’s demonstrate this with a pretty mundane example, because a lot of the work that needs to be done to integrate systems together is relatively mundane. In this particular example we need to integrate Salesforce to an SAP database. You can custom build the integration to connect these applications together

In theory, that approach is fine. It's on time, it's on budget, and meets requirements. The problem with this is you're not going to get an leverage whatsoever. You don't get any reuse. You're actually fairly tightly coupled to the applications, you're not getting any value off of connecting cells force or SAP.  After you’ve done it for the first time, if you need to let another team have access to these applications, The first time, you have to go and connect it again the next time. You build a thousand of these and it get's very hard to govern anything or really see what's going on and what's moving between systems.

Initial investment in the application network pays dividends later

The application network is a discipline. There is no silver bullet here. This is change. What you need to do is get people the tools and capability to behave in a different way. That is what the application network does. Instead of delivering projects, IT are actually directing projects. They are ensuring quality and reusability, they are thinking about the important things like security. They can actually focus on some of the more important aspects versus running on the hamster wheel delivering the next connection between Salesforce and SAP. It also means your system experts are now not needed for every single project. If want to create a service on top of SAP for customers and then need to go create another service for reentry data, I now have a blueprint on how to unlock that information, and I can run that project more quickly. This is what we are seeing in organizations. Once you start doing this, once or twice, you get the motion down and you start moving quicker.

Finally, everything that goes on the application network has analytics, security, and governance built in. You know exactly what is going on inside your organization. You can see data flows all the way from the APIs that your mobile apps are talking to.  That changes dramatically for you. The whole point is to unleash the value of your enterprise. 

The whole point of setting up an application network is to thrive in the face of change. The only constant is change. We are in a world of extreme competitiveness. It's not the biggest or the strongest that survive, it's the most capable of change. 

Take a look at more Application Network resources.

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