What is application management? All you need to know


Jul 9, 2024

Application management involves overseeing software applications throughout their entire lifecycle, from planning through deployment, maintenance, and retirement. The goal is to ensure that these applications perform well, are cost-effective, meet business requirements, and deliver an excellent user experience.

Managing the growing portfolio of software applications that power your business is a challenging yet mission-critical task. Gone are the days when a company could get by with a handful of basic applications like word processing, spreadsheets, and email. Today's digital-first landscape means even small companies may use dozens or even hundreds of business applications (think HRIS, ERP, CRM) spanning every department and function.

As a result, issues like performance problems, downtime, or security breaches can have severe consequences for businesses that rely heavily on these digital tools to stay competitive and operate efficiently. With the average company using 254 SaaS apps and the average cost of a data breach reaching USD $4.45 million, the importance of robust security measures cannot be overstated.

To ensure that software remains a valuable asset rather than a hindrance, companies must implement a carefully planned strategy to keep all applications running optimally, safely, and in line with their overall objectives.

That's where application management comes in. By taking a proactive, comprehensive approach to overseeing your software portfolio throughout its lifecycle, you can ensure your applications are always delivering maximum value to your organization and its end users. 

In this article, we'll dive into exactly what application management entails, why it matters, some key strategies to implement, and stakeholders involved.

What is application management (AM)?

Application management aims to impose a level of discipline and centralized oversight to the software environment. It involves the processes, tools, and resources required to operate, maintain, version, and deploy software applications throughout their lifecycle. Rather than each application being managed in a silo by its individual owners, AM provides a holistic framework to ensure consistency and best practices across the board.

For example: A large retail company might have hundreds of applications used by various corporate functions, distribution centers, and stores. Without application management, each of those instances might be configured differently, with varying levels of security and performance, creating a support nightmare. With AM, the company can enforce standards, streamline support, and ensure the overall application ecosystem is aligned to its goals.

What are application management services?

Application management is a complex discipline requiring specialized skills and significant resources to implement properly. That's why many organizations opt to partner with an application management services (AMS) provider rather than go it alone.

AMS providers offer expert resources to plan, implement, and run application management on behalf of their clients. They bring proven methodologies, tools, and best practices to help companies maximize the value of their software investments.

Some common AMS offerings include:

  • Application portfolio management and roadmap planning
  • Migration and deployment services
  • Round-the-clock application monitoring and support
  • Update and patch management
  • Performance optimization
  • User access management
  • License management
  • Custom development and integrations
  • Application retirement

Partnering with an AMS provider is especially attractive for companies that lack the in-house expertise to implement a robust application management program. It's also a smart way to augment in-house IT teams with specialized skills and flexible resources that can scale up or down as business needs change. 

Even organizations with mature IT functions often find it advantageous to offload day-to-day application management to an expert partner, enabling their staff to focus on more strategic initiatives.

Why is application management important for businesses?

There are a few key reasons application management should be a top priority for any company that relies on software:

Maximize application performance and availability

With the average cost of IT downtime ranging from $5600 to $9000 or more per minute, It’s essential that you keep your software running at peak performance with minimal outages. By proactively monitoring applications and resolving issues quickly, you can ensure users always have access to the tools they need. This has a direct impact on productivity and customer experience.

Protect against security threats and compliance risk

Application management imposes rigorous security measures such as access controls and vulnerability patching, and ensures applications comply with relevant laws and standards like GDPR, HIPAA, and ISO 27001. Strong application management makes compliance a repeatable, well-documented process rather than an ad hoc scramble. It achieves this by embedding compliance checks and documentation into every stage of the software development lifecycle, from requirements gathering through deployment and maintenance.

Control software costs

Applications are a major expense for most companies when you factor in licensing, infrastructure, support, and ongoing maintenance. Without central oversight, it's easy for application costs to spiral out of control as individual departments deploy overlapping or unnecessary tools. Application management gives you visibility into your entire software spend so you can identify waste and optimize licensing. 

Empower business agility

Change is the only constant in business, and your applications need to be able to adapt quickly. A mature application management function is the key to business agility. With well-defined processes, a clear application roadmap, and flexible resources at the ready, you can respond to changing market conditions and priorities without missing a beat. 

Ensure a stellar user experience

At the end of the day, applications are only as valuable as they are usable. If your software is clunky, confusing, or unreliable, users won't adopt it enthusiastically. Application management keeps the end user front and center by soliciting user feedback and monitoring application performance to ensure applications are helpful instead of hindrances. 

6 best application management strategies

Effective application management doesn't happen by accident. It requires a deliberate, multifaceted approach that touches all aspects of the software lifecycle. Here are some proven strategies to build into your application management program:

Maintain an accurate application inventory

You can't manage what you can't see. The first thing is to establish and maintain a complete inventory of all applications used across your organization. This should include information such as the application owner, business function, hosting model (on-premises vs cloud), integrations, users, and more. With an accurate inventory, you can make informed decisions about your application portfolio and ensure all software is being properly managed.

Standardize and automate common processes

Every application requires a slew of routine management tasks—things like provisioning user access, applying patches, and generating reports. Doing these tasks manually is time-consuming and error-prone. Look for opportunities to standardize and automate repetitive business processes. Automation enables your team to manage a larger application portfolio with less effort and better consistency.

Implement centralized monitoring and alerting

You can't afford to wait for users to report application issues. You need proactive monitoring to detect and resolve problems before they impact the business. Implement comprehensive monitoring across all your applications to track key performance indicators, resource utilization, errors and more. Set up automated alerts to notify the right personnel when issues arise so they can be triaged and resolved quickly. Monitoring is especially important for cloud-based applications where you don't have direct control over the underlying infrastructure.

Prioritize security and compliance

Applications are prime targets for cyber attackers, and a breach can have devastating consequences in terms of data loss, reputation damage, and regulatory penalties. Make security a core pillar of your application management program. This includes practices like:

  • Enforcing strong authentication and access controls
  • Encrypting sensitive data
  • Conducting regular vulnerability scans and penetration tests
  • Monitoring for anomalous activity that could indicate an attack
  • Implementing secure development practices for custom applications

Security can't be an afterthought or a one-time box check. It needs to be woven into the fabric of how you manage applications day in and day out.

Foster cross-functional collaboration

Applications don't exist in a vacuum. They interact with other systems and impact multiple stakeholders across the business. Effective application management therefore requires strong cross-functional collaboration. This means involving application managers, end users, developers, security professionals, and business leaders in decisions and processes that govern applications.

Invest in ongoing training and enablement

Applications are always evolving with new features, UI changes, and process updates. Ensuring users are able to keep up and leverage applications effectively requires ongoing investment in training and enablement. This could take the form of instructor-led sessions, self-paced learning modules, FAQs and knowledge bases, or embedded performance support. The key is to make sure users have the information and assistance they need, when and where they need it.

Main stakeholders in application management

Application management is a team sport that requires close collaboration among various stakeholders. Each plays a vital role in ensuring applications are well-managed and deliver value to the business. Key stakeholders include:

IT manager

The IT manager is typically the primary owner of the application management program. They're responsible for defining AM strategy, setting policies and standards, and overseeing the day-to-day management of the application portfolio. The IT manager works closely with other IT functions like infrastructure and security, as well as with business stakeholders to ensure alignment between applications and business objectives.

Application developers

Application developers are the technical experts who design, build, and maintain applications. They have deep knowledge of application architecture, code, and dependencies. Developers play a key role in application management by ensuring software is built to be maintainable, scalable, and secure. They also work closely with IT operations to troubleshoot issues and implement changes.

Business analysts

Business analysts act as a bridge between the IT department and the business units. They help identify business requirements, define application functionality, and ensure that applications meet the needs of the business. Business analysts work closely with end users to gather feedback, document requirements, and communicate them to the development team. They also play a key role in testing and validating applications before deployment.

IT operations team

The IT operations team is responsible for the day-to-day monitoring, maintenance, and support of applications. They handle tasks like user provisioning, patching, performance tuning, and issue resolution. The ops team is the first line of defense when application issues arise. They work to minimize downtime and keep applications running smoothly.

End users

End users are the employees, customers, and partners who rely on applications to do their jobs or interact with the business. They are a critical stakeholder in application management because their experience and feedback directly impacts the success of an application. IT and business leaders must work together to understand and meet the needs of end users. 

Identity and access management vs application management

While application management focuses on overseeing software applications throughout their lifecycle, identity and access management (IAM) is a closely related but distinct discipline that specifically governs digital identities and their access to systems and data. IAM is a critical component of an overall application management strategy, but it has a broader scope that extends beyond just applications.

Some key capabilities of IAM solutions include:

While application management software may provide some basic access control features, a true IAM solution takes a more comprehensive and identity-centric approach. It provides a single source of truth for user identities and allows you to define and enforce consistent access policies across all your systems, not just your applications.

Enhance your application management with Rippling

While application management is complex, having the right tools makes a world of difference.. Rippling is a comprehensive platform that helps businesses manage all aspects of their employee systems, including application and identity management.

With Rippling, companies can:

  • Instantly provision and deprovision user access to all of their applications from a central dashboard
  • Configure role-based access permissions and approval workflows
  • Automatically keep employee application access updated based on a single source of truth for employee data
  • Provide SSO and MFA across applications
  • Implement segregation of duties and least privilege access

What sets Rippling apart is its ability to unify IAM with application, device, and employee management on a single platform. By integrating deeply with your HR system, Rippling ensures that each user’s access stays in sync with their current role and employment status. 

And with Rippling's device management capabilities, you can enforce even more granular access policies based on a user's device security posture. This level of automation and integration is essential to effectively manage identity and access in today's dynamic IT environments. 

Frequently asked questions

What does an application manager do?

An application manager oversees the entire lifecycle of an organization's software applications, from planning and deployment to maintenance and retirement. They ensure applications are performing optimally, meeting business requirements, and providing a good user experience by coordinating with various stakeholders and managing tasks such as monitoring, troubleshooting, security, and upgrades.

What is the difference between application lifecycle management and software development lifecycle?

Application lifecycle management (ALM) is a broader term that encompasses the entire lifecycle of an application, including strategy, design, development, testing, deployment, maintenance, and retirement. The software development lifecycle (SDLC) is a subset of ALM that focuses specifically on the phases of software development, such as requirements gathering, design, coding, testing, and deployment.

What is included in application management services?

Application management services provided by third-party vendors typically include a wide range of activities such as application monitoring, maintenance, performance optimization, security management, user support, and minor enhancements. The specific services can vary depending on the vendor and the client's needs, but the overall goal is to offload the day-to-day management and support of applications to a specialized provider.

last edited: July 9, 2024

The Author

Marisa Krystian

Senior Content Marketing Manager, IT

Marisa is a content marketer with over ten years of experience, specializing in security and workplace technology—all with a love of black coffee and the Oxford comma.