ITSM for high-velocity teams

What is application dependency mapping (ADM)?

Application dependency mapping is the process of visually laying out the relationships between your applications and what they accomplish in an IT environment. This mapping is essential if IT professionals want to know how changes to one application might impact another. For IT risk management, it’s not just a smart strategy — it’s integral to keeping applications running.

Whether you use diagrams, data visualizations, or sketches on a napkin, ADM should provide you with the critical information you need to understand the geography of your applications. And in this case, X doesn’t only mark one spot. It can help you map out the entirety of a smooth IT workflow.

The importance of application dependency mapping

Application dependency mapping is a form of risk management. Once you have an accurate application map, you can identify downstream risks or even hypothesize areas to improve an IT system’s performance. Most importantly, it gives you the geography of your next application initiative. 

With application dependency mapping already done, any future changes to your application workflows can be timely, controlled, and accurate. It’s the GPS to your application workflow that makes the trip that much easier.

What are the benefits of ADM?

Application dependency mapping is integral to IT teams and helps save time and money. But beyond improved project planning and execution, there are countless other benefits of ADM, including:

Improved IT system performance and reliability

An application map is important, yes. Just as important is the process of application dependency mapping. This process helps highlight IT system performance risks (like compatibility issues between two applications or security risks when one application is out-of-date), so you can identify key areas to improve reliability.

Reduced risk of unexpected system changes

When you have an application map, an unexpected system change becomes less of an emergency. You can use your ADM process to identify the wrenches in the engine.

Improved visibility into IT systems

ADM is a look “under the hood” for your IT staff. And that has synergistic effects on anyone who wants to get a better look at your IT systems. For example, ADM can use color-coded flags to help assess risk at a glance, which helps onboard new IT professionals trying to evaluate your current risks.

Improved capacity to identify areas of improvement

Finding risks does more than identify problem areas. They show you where you need to focus to keep your IT systems running smoothly.

Improved ability to plan for future changes

Rather than making future plans based on hopes and guesses, an application map shows which steps you need to take for lower-risk modifications to your workflow.

Improved ability to plan for future changes

Rather than making future plans based on hopes and guesses, an application map shows which steps you need to take for lower-risk modifications to your workflow.

Improved understanding of the impact of changes on systems

What happens when you alter one app, introduce another, or change the relationships that define these apps? There’s no more guesswork when you track that application’s impact on your entire workflow.

Improved ability to detect issues quickly

The “pipework” of your IT applications can make it complex to detect issues when something goes wrong. A map of this pipework helps you isolate issues to their root causes.

Best practices in ADM

To ensure your application dependency mapping process goes smoothly, there are a few best practices to keep in mind.

Understand the existing application landscape and identify dependencies

The first step is getting the lay of the land. That means identifying the dependencies some apps need to work, helping you understand the cause-and-effect relationships between each.

Create diagrams or data visualizations to illustrate the relationships between applications and services

Application relationships aren’t always obvious, even to IT professionals. But a diagram or data visualization can convey key relationships and risks without having to dive into the technical details.

Analyze the dependencies to identify potential risks or areas of improvement

An app’s dependency on another is inherently a risk. Your application map should introduce the relationships between these apps so you better understand risks—and where to improve your map to minimize them.

Document the findings and monitor dependencies regularly

Did you identify any risks? Document your findings in a tool such as Confluence to create a repeatable process of monitoring the dependencies.

Automate workflows to ensure accuracy

Automate the most mundane workflows—such as running system reports or setting up team messaging alerts if an application needs an update—to ensure these IT workflows operate as predicted.

Test the application dependencies regularly

A map might be helpful, but it’s not always a perfect representation of reality. Test the application dependencies you identify to ensure reality corresponds with your application map. Of course, different applications will have different requirements, which is why ADM is so important for identifying your testing needs.

Ensure the mapping remains up-to-date

Review the IT workflow and interview key stakeholders to see if the map needs refinement or still accurately represents your IT.

What workflows would they implement to improve efficiency? Does the current mapping system accurately reflect the IT risks? Do they feel “in the loop” when applications need updates? Review these questions to ensure that your application dependency mapping is still relevant.