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Pace-Layered Application Strategies, Fact or Fiction?


When Gartner isn't spending time predicting PC keyboard shipments into China for Q3 2012, it appears that some of the more software application development focused analysts among the team are analysing enterprise application strategies. Accordingly, the market evaluation firm has detailed what it calls the Gartner Pace-Layered Application Strategy, which is defined as follows.

Pace-Layered: A new methodology for categorizing applications and developing a differentiated management and governance process that reflects how they are used and their rate of change.

Gartner points to the problem of the development team receiving requests from the business function for quick-to-deploy apps that can be used to target a specific commercial opportunity. The IT organization (on the other hand) typically works toward a strategic goal of standardizing on a limited set of comprehensive application suites in order to minimize integration issues, maximize security, and reduce IT costs.

These competing goals often lead to strategic misalignment, says the firm's Yvonne Genovese, "In the past, many companies had a single strategy for selecting, deploying, and managing applications. They may have had methodologies for classifying applications by value or technological viability, but they did not recognize that applications are fundamentally different based on how they are used by the organization."

Gartner said the idea of pace layers can be used to build a business application strategy that delivers a faster response and a better ROI, without sacrificing integration, integrity, and/or governance. Similar to the concepts in building architecture, Gartner has defined three application categories, or "layers," to distinguish application types and help organizations develop more appropriate strategies for each:

Systems of Record — Established packaged applications or legacy home-grown systems that support core transaction processing and manage the organization's critical master data. The rate of change is low, because the processes are well-established, common to most organizations, and often are subject to regulatory requirements.

Systems of Differentiation — Applications that enable unique company processes or industry-specific capabilities. They have a medium lifecycle (one to three years), but need to be reconfigured frequently to accommodate changing business practices or customer requirements.

Systems of Innovation — New applications that are built on an ad hoc basis to address new business requirements or opportunities. These are typically short lifecycle projects (zero to 12 months) using departmental or outside resources and consumer-grade technologies.

"These layers correspond to the notion of business leaders having common ideas, different ideas, and new ideas," said Dennis Gaughan, managing vice president at Gartner. "The same application may be classified differently in one company than in another, based on its usage and relationship to the business model. We expect to see applications move among layers as they mature, or as the business process shifts from experimental to well-established to industry standard."

One of the keys to using pace layering is to take a more granular approach to thinking about applications. Organizations are accustomed to using common, three-letter acronym application categories (such as ERP and CRM) but, when classifying applications in pace layers, they must be broken down into individual processes or functions.

For example, financial accounting, order entry, and collaborative demand planning are often part of a single ERP package, but are separate application modules that belong in three different layers in the Pace-Layered Application Strategy.

According to a Gartner press statement, "This approach should also be used to classify individually packaged or custom-developed applications. It is important to determine whether they support a common requirement, a unique business methodology, or an innovative new business process. This allows the organization to apply the appropriate governance, funding, and data models, based on the characteristics of each application."


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