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The Importance of Application Lifecycle Management (ALM)

May 16, 2024 John O’Neill Sr

In the fast-paced world of software development, Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) emerges as a critical framework that dictates the success or failure of software projects. ALM provides a holistic approach to managing an application's lifecycle from inception to retirement, encapsulating all phases, including requirements gathering, development, testing, deployment, and ongoing support. This blog post aims to underscore the importance of ALM for organizations from all sectors, spotlighting the perils of ad-hoc management practices and illustrating how a well-orchestrated ALM strategy can transform software development processes.

The Pitfalls of Ad-Hoc Management

Without a structured ALM approach, organizations often fall into the trap of ad-hoc management practices. This disjointed method characterizes a lack of coordination, inconsistent processes, and inefficient change management. Such an environment not only breeds decreased productivity but also elevates the risk of security vulnerabilities and compromises software quality.

Take for instance - the case of a small software development team working on a new mobile app. The team decides to forgo a formalized ALM process and instead relies on informal communication and spontaneous decision-making. They use a basic version control system, but lack standardized procedures for versioning, code reviews, testing, or quality control. As features are developed, team members test them on their own devices without a dedicated, secure sandboxed testing environment or systematic bug tracking.

Deployment happens manually, with each developer taking turns uploading the latest version to the app store. Documentation is lacking, consisting mostly of brief notes and chat messages. As a result, the entire team struggles with inconsistencies in the app, missed deadlines, and difficulty in maintaining and scaling the project, leading to increased technical debt and frequent hotfixes.

The consequences of ad-hoc management are manifold, including project delays, budget overruns, and unmet user expectations. These issues stem from the chaotic nature of ad-hoc practices, where each phase of the application lifecycle operates in silos, devoid of integration or consistent oversight. Real-world examples abound where organizations, lured by the illusion of flexibility and speed, opt for an ad-hoc approach only to find their projects mired in inefficiencies and quality issues. Worse, many successful cyberattacks leveraged forgotten application access levels left behind by the ad-hoc ALM approach. Let’s dive deeper into a few specific examples of the pitfalls of ad-hoc ALM.

Case Study #1

The internal IT team of a mid-sized manufacturing company develops a custom CRM system to manage client relationships and sales data. The team employs an ad-hoc ALM approach, relying on informal processes and undocumented practices. As the application grows, the lack of formal version control and standardized coding practices leads to inconsistencies in the codebase.

Team members frequently overwrite each other's changes, causing functionality regressions and introducing new bugs. Without a structured testing process, critical bugs slip into production, disrupting sales operations and causing customer dissatisfaction. The absence of detailed documentation makes onboarding new developers difficult and time-consuming, leading to delays in implementing new features and addressing issues. Ultimately, the system becomes unreliable, requiring frequent patches and workarounds, and the company contemplates migrating to a commercial CRM solution due to the escalating maintenance costs and operational disruptions.

Case Study #2

Ad-hoc ALM pitfalls don’t just impact internal development efforts. Consider the case of a financial services firm that contracts an external development firm to develop a custom trading platform. The vendor operates with an ad-hoc ALM approach, leading to a lack of clear communication and documentation between them and team members at the financial services firm. As the platform is developed, frequent changes in project requirements and scope are poorly tracked, causing confusion and misalignment. The vendor's informal testing procedures fail to catch critical security vulnerabilities, which are discovered only after the platform is deployed. These vulnerabilities expose the firm to data breaches, necessitating an urgent and costly security audit.

Additionally, without a formal change management process, updates and bug fixes are implemented haphazardly, leading to system downtime during trading hours. The lack of a reliable update schedule and poor support documentation frustrate the firm's IT department, which struggles to maintain and troubleshoot the platform. As a result, the firm experiences financial losses and reputational damage, and eventually, they seek legal action against the vendor for breach of contract and negligence.

Case study #3

Our final case study considers a large healthcare system's internally developed patient management system. For the record, IBM found in 2023 that the average cost of a healthcare breach is nearly $11 million on average. The internal development team relied on an ad-hoc ALM approach and did not follow standardized procedures for managing user roles and access levels throughout the application's lifecycle. Several temporary administrative accounts were created during the initial development phase to facilitate testing and troubleshooting. These accounts were supposed to be removed or their rights downgraded before the system went live, but some were forgotten due to the lack of proper documentation and oversight.

Several months after the system's deployment, a cyber attacker conducted a basic network scan and brute-force attack, discovering one of the forgotten administrative accounts. Exploiting this high-level access, the attacker infiltrated the patient management system, gaining unrestricted access to sensitive patient records, including personally identifiable information, medical histories, and insurance details. The attacker then exfiltrated the data, resulting in a significant data breach that compromised the privacy of thousands of patients.

In the aftermath, the healthcare organization faced severe repercussions, including regulatory fines, legal action from affected patients, and a loss of trust in their ability to secure sensitive information. This breach highlights the critical flaws of the ad-hoc ALM approach, emphasizing the need for robust access management and thorough documentation throughout the application's lifecycle to prevent such vulnerabilities.

The Structured ALM Approach: A Comparative Analysis

Contrastingly, a structured ALM approach offers a comprehensive framework that ensures seamless integration and coordination across all application lifecycle stages. Organizations can achieve improved team collaboration, enhanced process visibility, superior quality control, and a robust cybersecurity posture by implementing standardized processes and leveraging ALM tools.

ALM stages typically include the following:

Requirements Gathering and Analysis: This first stage includes identifying and documenting the application's needs and objectives, including functional and non-functional requirements.

Design: Creating detailed technical and architectural designs that serve as blueprints for the development phase.

Development: Writing and compiling code to build the application based on the design specifications.

Testing: Conducting various tests, including unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and user acceptance testing, to identify and fix flaws (bugs) and ensure the application meets the specified requirements.

Deployment: Releasing the application to the production environment, making it available for end-users.

Maintenance and Support: Providing ongoing support, fixing bugs, making updates, patching security flaws, and adding new features to ensure the application remains functional and relevant.

Retirement: Decommissioning the application when it is no longer needed or has been replaced by a new system, ensuring data migration or archiving as necessary.

One illustrative example of ALM benefiting an organization is the aforementioned financial services company transitioning from ad-hoc development practices to a structured ALM approach. Initially plagued by frequent delays and security breaches, adopting a formalized ALM strategy enabled the company to streamline its development processes, significantly improve application security, and reduce time to market. This transformation underscored the value of a well-defined ALM strategy in achieving operational excellence and delivering secure, high-quality software products.

Benefits of Embracing a Structured ALM Strategy

The advantages of a structured ALM strategy are multifaceted. Improved team collaboration is a direct outcome, as ALM fosters a culture of transparency and shared responsibility. Process visibility is significantly enhanced, allowing stakeholders to monitor project progress in real-time and make informed decisions. Quality control becomes integral to the development process, ensuring that applications meet stringent standards before deployment. Moreover, a structured ALM strategy strengthens an organization's cybersecurity strategy by embedding security considerations throughout the application lifecycle.

Overcoming Ad-Hoc Practices

Transitioning from ad-hoc to structured ALM practices is not without its challenges. However, organizations can navigate this transition successfully by adopting standardized processes, utilizing ALM tools for better integration, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and ensuring effective team communication. The key is to recognize that structured ALM practices are not a one-size-fits-all solution; they require customization to fit each organization's unique needs and workflows.

Improve Security by Removing Unneeded Azure Enterprise Applications

Amidst the vast expanse of managing an application's lifecycle, one challenge that often goes unnoticed is the accumulation of orphaned and unused Azure enterprise applications. These digital remnants, left unchecked, can not only clutter your environment but also pose significant security risks. Recognizing this, the introduction of tools like ENow App Governance Accelerator marks a pivotal development in ALM practices. This powerful tool specifically aids organizations in identifying these neglected applications efficiently and guiding you in the remediation and removal efforts.

The App Governance Accelerator analysis and alerts empower IT professionals to make informed decisions about which applications to retain, update, or retire by providing detailed insights into application usage. Incorporating such targeted cleanup activities into your ALM strategy ensures that your Azure environment remains optimized, secure, and aligned with your organization's operational needs. By proactively managing enterprise applications, companies can further enhance their cybersecurity posture, reduce unnecessary expenditure on unused licenses, and streamline their application portfolio for better performance and manageability.

The Road Ahead: Committing to Structured ALM Practices

While the shift to structured ALM practices demands effort and commitment, the rewards for project success, software quality, and customer satisfaction are substantial. Organizations prioritizing ALM can mitigate risks, enhance efficiency, and deliver superior software products. In addition, a methodical ALM approach supports robust Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) The initial investment in adopting structured ALM practices is, without a doubt, a worthwhile endeavor.

In conclusion, the stark contrast between the outcomes of ad-hoc and structured ALM approaches paints a clear picture of the path organizations must choose. By embracing ALM, companies can streamline their development processes and ensure the delivery of secure, high-quality software that meets and exceeds user expectations. The journey towards structured ALM practices is a strategic investment in the future—a step towards achieving excellence in software development and securing a competitive edge in the digital marketplace.


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John O’Neill Sr

Written by John O’Neill Sr

John’s professional IT career began as a teenager, taking him on many wonderful adventures over the past 30 years. John’s IT path started with programming, but branched out quickly. Opportunities from the Help Desk to the Corner Office shape his IT journey. Specializing in Security, Systems, and Infrastructure technologies, John’s broad skillset includes Desktop and Server OS, Identity Management, Networking Services, Network Architecture, IP Telephony, and CyberSecurity. Passionate about giving back to the IT community, John develops relevant, timely content which IT Pros take advantage of immediately. Part of the MVPDays team, he develops both online and in-print content. In addition, John authored material as a contributing editor for the online community as well as senior contributor to Tom’s IT Pro, Redmond Magazine, Netwrix, and both Thomson-Reuters' Aspatore Books and Exec Blueprints publications. Helping others succeed and advance in IT drives John to share knowledge. Speaking at conferences worldwide, developing technology training courses for Pluralsight’s online training library, and leading webinars are all regular investments by John in the current and next generation of IT professionals. Blending high-tech education with a bit of entertainment, attendees at John’s sessions regularly rate him one of their favorite speakers. Attendees rated John top speaker/best session at TechMentor Redmond 2019 and again at Techmentor Orlando 2021. John is proud to be honored by industry organizations, leaders, and especially his peers. A five-time recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, John received NEOSA’s CIO of the Year Award in 2012.