There are, according to the KJR Manifesto, no best practices, only practices that fit best.

More often than not, though, “best practice” refers to neither. Most so-called best practices are really no more than minimum standards of basic professionalism.

Take a situation I’ve run into several times over the past few years: Whether due to mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, years of IT being stretched too tight, or just plain sloppy management, IT can’t produce an accurate business applications inventory.

Clearly these IT organizations aren’t in sync with “best practices,” which call for instituting:

  • PMO (Program Management Office): The body responsible for reviewing, approving, and tracking all IT-related projects. The PMO matters because it’s the projects it oversees that change the applications inventory.
  • CMDB (Configuration Management Database): A repository that keeps track of What’s Installed Where. Business applications are among the “configuration items” the CMDB keeps track of, along with every piece of real and virtual hardware, server OS instances, DBMS instances, development environments … every item IT has to keep up and running.
  • CAB (Change Advisory Board): The organization responsible for reviewing all “change requests” (read “installation requests”) to make sure development teams, IT infrastructure teams, and anyone else trying to change the IT production environment has dotted all requisite i’s and crossed all corresponding t’s. Also, for making sure someone updates the CMDB to reflect every change.
  • EAMS (Enterprise Architecture Management System): An information system that keeps track of … well, of all layers of the enterprise architecture, from hardware at the bottom to platforms layered on it, to information repositories, applications, and the business capabilities, functions, and processes that depend on them.
  • ARB (Architecture Review Board): Enterprise Architecture’s enforcement arm — the organization that reviews all IT-related plans to ensure they conform to the company’s technical standards. And, for making sure every change results in an update to the EAMS.
  • Forms: Lots of forms, to make sure each change consistently updates the CMDB, EAMS, and enterprise project portfolio to keep them consistent with one another. Or, as an alternative, application integration that makes sure an update to any of these systems synchronizes the others.
  • MA (Mandatory Arbitration): With three different committees, each responsible for finding flaws in the creative work of other people, do you think all parties will agree? Envision the oarsmen on a trireme with multiple captains directing them to row in different directions.

Forget (or at least delay) best practice. Achieving the minimum standard of basic professionalism in all this is more than ambitious enough. And that’s having a single, trustworthy application inventory. What it will take:

Count each application once. Is the application installed on multiple servers in multiple locations? Doesn’t matter. Count it once. Do you have separate Dev, Test, Prod, and possibly other intermediate instances? Doesn’t matter. Count it once.

Do you have multiple versions or releases installed? That does matter — count each of these as separate inventory entries.

Determine application granularity. If you, like most businesses, rely on large-scale suites to support major business domains (e.g. Workday for HR, Salesforce for CRM, SAP for ERP), the suites aren’t granular enough. Make each module an entry.

If your business is at the other granularity extreme, microservices are too granular to track in the inventory. Go up a level and track the applications microservices assemble into.

Manage app/platform dualities. To take an example, SharePoint is both an application and a platform for building applications. Track these uses separately.

Track the bare minimum. For each application track its name, version, product owner (or non-Agile equivalent), IT support lead, a brief description, and vendor. If you can’t easily implement the inventory on a spreadsheet you’re being too ambitious.

Related: If you find yourself tossing around terms like “metadata,” stop unless you’re planning on using an EAMS for the job. Don’t even daydream about metadata until you have an accurate inventory.

Survey the business. Ask each top-level executive this question: “What are the five applications your organization relies on the most? Please reply; also please forward this survey to your direct reports, asking them to respond and also to forward it to their direct reports.”

Use the results to validate your inventory, but be careful. Your business respondents might not use the same application names you used in your list.

Enlist the PMO and ARB. Ask them to let you know of any new applications being installed, updates to existing ones, and retirements.

And finally, instill in everyone the first rule of inventory management: What the inventory shows today will be wrong by this time tomorrow.

I’m giving myself a Memorial Day break. I didn’t post anything yesterday, and today is a re-run, from, as the Beatles might have sung, 20 years ago today.

It’s a bit esoteric, but even more relevant today than when I first wrote it.

Take a look and let me know what you think about it.

– Bob

# # #

If there’s one certainty in our business, it’s that useful, lightweight frameworks turn into bloated, productivity-destroying methodologies.

And so it was with considerable trepidation last week that I suggested we need another methodology, to do for Content Management Systems (CMSs — the technologies we use to manage unstructured information) what normalization and related techniques do for relational database management systems (“Unstructured data design — the missing methodology,” KJR, 5/17/2010).

But we do. As evidence, I offer many of the comments and e-mails I received suggesting we don’t: Most pointed to the existence of well-developed tools that allow us to attach metadata to “unstructured content objects” (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, digital photos, videos and such, which we might as well acronymize now and have done with it: For our purposes they’re now officially “UCOs”).

And many more pointing out that search obviates the need for categorization.

Let’s handle search first, because it’s easier: Search is Google listing 16,345,321,568 UCOs that might have what you’re looking for. It’s also what leads to (for example) searches for “globe,” “sphere,” “orb,” and “ball” yielding entirely different results.

Search is what you do when you don’t have useful categories.

And then there’s metadata — the subject that proves we don’t have what we need. Because while we have the ability to attach metadata to UCOs, we have only ad hoc methods for deciding what that metadata should be.

Some readers suggested this might be a solved problem. Books are UCOs, and librarians have been categorizing them for centuries. Between the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Classification, surely there’s a sound basis on which to build.

Maybe there is. I’m skeptical but not knowledgeable enough to state with confidence they won’t work. I’m skeptical because their primary purpose is to place books in known locations in the library so they can be readily found, which means they’re probably similar to the single folder trees we need to move beyond.

What we need, that is, is the ability to place one UCO in as many different locations as anyone might logically expect to find it. To use one of my own books as an example, Leading IT: The Toughest Job in the World would fit in at least these categories: Leadership, Information Technology, Staffing, Decision-making, Motivation, Culture change, and Communication skills.

The official name for the discipline of defining knowledge domains … what we’re trying to do … is ontology. It’s an active area of development, including the creation of standards (such as OWL, which puzzlingly stands for “Web Ontology Language” instead of “Ontology Web Language,” but let it pass).

From what I’ve been able to determine, though, it appears everything being developed thus far falls under the heading of tools, with a useful methodology nowhere in sight. This is, perhaps, unsurprising as it appears philosophers have been discussing the subject at least since Aristotle first introduced it 2,350 years ago or so, without yet arriving at a consensus.

It could be awhile.

Of course, philosophers are obliged to develop systems so universal they apply, not only to our universe, but to all possible universes. Such is the nature of universal truth.

We don’t need to be quite so ambitious. We merely need to categorize information about our businesses. To get the ball rolling, I’ll offer up the framework we’ve synthesized at IT Catalysts. It enumerates ten topics that together completely describe any business — five internal and five external. They are:


  • People: The individual human beings who staff a business.
  • Processes: How people do their work.
  • Technologies: The tools people use to perform the roles they play in business processes.
  • Structure: Organizational structures, facilities, governance, accounting, and compensation — how the business is put together and interconnected.
  • Culture: The learned behavior people exhibit in response to their environment, and the shared attitudes that underlie it.


  • Products: Whatever the business sells to generate profitable revenue.
  • Customers: Whoever makes or influences buying decisions about the products a business sells.
  • Pricing: What the business charges for its products, terms and conditions of purchase, and the underlying principles that lead to them.
  • Marketplace: The business “ecosystem” in which the company exists, including customer groupings, competitors, partners, and suppliers.
  • Messages: How and what the business communicates with its marketplace.

There you go — a free gift, if you’ll forgive the redundancy. Just break these topics down into sub-topics and sub-sub-topics. The result should be a workable classification scheme.

Let me know when you’re done.