Application Governance, Explained (2024)

application governance

An organization’s applications provide the infrastructure for a business to function. As companies grow and navigate digital transformation, software environments can become increasingly complex and challenging for IT teams to manage entire portfolios.  

Improper software adoption, usage, and subscription mismanagement lead to severe problems for IT teams, resulting in unachieved digital ROI and missed business objectives for organizations. 

To ensure that an organization gets the most value out of its applications, IT teams must oversee and govern how its applications are maintained and utilized throughout their lifecycles. Application governance provides a practical toolset for alleviating these challenges and offers various benefits when done effectively. 

What Is Application Governance?

Application governance is the process of creating a structure that governs the development, deployment, management, and use of IT applications. A form of IT governance, it clearly delineates responsible parties, approval workflows, access policies, and offboarding requirements.

Application governance enables teams to control better how an organization’s workforce uses its applications, ensuring use meets compliance requirements and the organization’s best practices. By leveraging foundational practices related to maintaining security, finances, operations, data, and performance, teams can steer teams toward effective application governance.

Types of Application Governance

There are many different types of application governance, each relating to a particular aspect of application security and management. Here are some of the essential types of application governance:

1. Development governance

As an application is developed, standards for coding, methodologies, and version control need to be established. Development governance should allow for transparency and agility in software development by promoting trust and knowledge sharing among developers and stakeholders.

2. Deployment governance

Once applications have been developed and are ready to be deployed, application governance comes into play when it comes to managing the release of the application, automating deployment processes, and coordinating with IT to roll out software. Deployment governance efforts are carried out to minimize issues during the deployment process.

3. Security governance

Security governance gives organizations a formalized framework for managing security risks, incorporating factors like identity management and encryption to strengthen the enterprise’s overall security. This component of application governance ensures that an organization has the administrative controls to protect data and secure applications.

4. Data governance

Managing data assets within applications should be a high priority for any organization. Application governance strategies should include robust guidelines for using data and data-related resources. This facilitates the implementation and enforcement of compliance requirements, enabling companies to minimize risks, cut costs, and ensure data privacy.

5. Performance governance

Performance governance involves creating a framework to manage the performance and scalability of an organization’s applications. This type of application governance involves monitoring and capacity planning to ensure optimal delivery of applications and services.

6. Compliance governance

Organizations in more highly regulated industries must comply with various laws and industry regulations that protect customers and other stakeholders. These organizations use process governance to establish and enact internal policies to meet compliance requirements.

7. Cloud governance

As more and more organizations host their core applications in the cloud, governing these complex systems requires a well-thought-out governance strategy. A well-planned cloud governance plan should be based on managing the complex nature of cloud environments and aim to enhance security, mitigate risk, and streamline operations.

8. User experience (UX) governance

By managing user experience-related design activities, it’s possible to center user needs around an organization’s applications. UX governance might involve structuring UX design language, strategies, and work processes to ensure that employees can use apps fully.

9. Change management governance

Building a governance structure into change management is just as important as everyday operations. Through change management governance, teams can establish leadership roles, structures, and protocols to facilitate evolving IT environments without disruption.

10. Portfolio governance

Organizations must properly govern their application portfolios to minimize SaaS waste and build an effective software asset management plan. Portfolio governance guides IT teams’ decisions regarding procuring new software, managing application subscriptions, and ensuring an organization’s apps meet the company’s functional needs.

Benefits of Application Governance

Application governance benefits organizations in many ways, like contributing to larger business goals and strengthening security measures. Here are some of the most significant ones:

1. Improved compliance and risk management

For organizations with solid application governance, increased security measures and robust security policies result in greater security and compliance outcomes. This not only safeguards the business from potential audits, but also mitigates risks like data loss or security breaches.

2. Enhanced data security and privacy

Data governance creates an environment that ensures data is managed and protected. This is essential for protecting assets, maintaining internal integrity, and building trust with users and customers. 

3. Streamlined software development and deployment

When an organization’s application environment is properly governed, processes are standardized and streamlined, facilitating the development and deployment of new software. 

In the long run, this prevents overspending due to delays and gives IT teams the necessary speed and agility to meet evolving demands and adapt to new technological trends.

4. Efficient resource allocation and cost control

Transparent application governance optimizes resource use across the board. This includes finances and the time and energy of development teams and application users. By minimizing waste and optimizing use, organizations can reduce costs related to day-to-day operations.

5. Enhanced collaboration and alignment with business goals

Because application governance establishes appropriate workflows and breaks down silos, this process promotes teamwork and cross-functional collaboration between stakeholders from development to security to executive management. By allowing users with different roles and perspectives to come together, application governance makes it easier for IT and management to align their activities and work toward common goals.

6. Better visibility and control over IT assets

When app-related procedures, workflows, and access are clearly laid out, software asset management becomes easier for IT teams and other employees. With effective software asset management, teams are better suited to protect an organization’s assets and manage resources.

7. Reduced IT complexity

Effective application governance allows teams to standardize and streamline software policies and workflows to simplify and optimize IT environments. This illuminates opportunities for IT teams to reduce waste and improve use outcomes by consolidating subscriptions and eliminating redundancies.

8. Enhanced user experience and satisfaction

With improved application governance, applications align well with users’ needs— not only in terms of functionality but security and performance as well. This allows employees to work more efficiently and feel satisfied with the tools they use to do their jobs every day.

9. Scalability and adaptability for future growth

Application governance allows IT teams to build streamlined, agile policy structures around application subscriptions, access, and usage. By building scalability into application structures,  IT teams ensure they can handle increased workload, user bases, and data volume. This is critical for preventing service interruptions and ensuring seamless use as organizations grow.

10. Increased competitiveness and innovation

Effective application governance not only promotes efficiency across organizations, but also creates structure and room for innovation, whether this means trying out new technology or using existing features more productively. Ultimately, this efficiency and innovation leads to continuous growth that can set an organization apart from its competitors.

8 Application Governance Best Practices

IT teams looking to improve application governance should establish best practices to create a robust and effective IT framework that ensures compliance through better software governance. Here are standard best practices businesses adopt to improve application governan

1. Establish clear governance policies and guidelines

First and foremost, policies should be laid out, documented, and articulated to employees who must comply with them. From the beginning, the objectives and scope of these policies should be framed with the business processes, organizational goals, and regulatory requirements they relate to.

2. Define roles and responsibilities for stakeholders

There are many stakeholders involved in application governance. Designate specific team members and stakeholders to manage application access, define related processes, and involve other key stakeholders in developing and implementing the governance framework. This ensures that stakeholder perspectives inform policy creation and incentivizes them to uphold policies as they’re rolled out.

3. Enforce standardized development and deployment processes

Application development and deployment processes should be standardized to provide a framework for consistency and control. This includes coding standards, testing procedures, and implementation. By implementing standardization across all software, IT teams can ensure compliance needs are met and processes are aligned with business goals from the get-go. 

4. Prioritize security and compliance in all phases

Security and compliance are central goals of application governance. Incorporate checks like risk assessments and internal audits into governance processes to stay ahead of risk, and automate them if possible.

5. Continuously assess and update governance policies

As regulations, technology, and organizational needs evolve, it’s critical to evaluate and update governance policies regularly. Use analytic tools to monitor application usage and update processes as needs change continually.

6. Foster cross-functional collaboration and communication

Encourage collaboration and communication across departments to bring together diverse skills and expertise, and align application governance efforts. This will create a shared understanding of needs and objectives across the organization to inform IT decision-making and portfolio management. 

7. Align governance with business objectives and strategy

Use overarching organizational goals to shape governance policies and ensure that IT investments drive the business forward. When the entire organization works toward a unified goal, businesses see fewer wasted efforts, increased efficiency, and more worthwhile investments.

8. Educate and train employees on governance principles

Employees should understand how to use the apps, the policies surrounding their usage, and the why. A contextual understanding is key to achieving optimal participation and compliance from employees. 

With a digital adoption platform (DAP) like Whatfix, IT teams can enable their end-users with in-app guidance and contextual support in moments of need. With Whatfix’s no-code editor, create role-based flows, task lists, smart tips, field validations, and more to provide contextual guidance to different end-users in the flow of work.

whatfix flow

With Self Help, provide in-app support to your end-users with a searchable resource center that aggregates your SOPs, process docs, training materials, onboarding resources, tutorial videos, third-party links, best practices, and more – all in one place that is contextually relevant to each end-users and where they are in an application.

Use Whatfix’s end-user behavioral analytics to monitor, capture, and analyze user behavior through custom event tracking. With Whatfix analytics, map optimal user flows, target specific users with cohorts, and identify areas of user friction. Address these friction areas with additional in-app content to continuously improve your application experience with a flywheel approach to end-user enablement, driving digital adoption.

whatfix-digital-adoption-platform-example

Above: In-app employee guidance created with the Whatfix Digital Adoption Platform

Whatfix’s DAP empowers organizations with a no-code editor to create in-app guided flows, onboarding tasklists, pop-ups, tooltips, alerts, reminders, self-help wikis, and more to enable employees to use software better. Enable your employees to become proficient in new applications faster, create interactive process documentation, guide users through process changes, assist employees through infrequent tasks, and provide self-help performance support on your CRM, ERP, HCM, or any desktop, web, or mobile application.

Application Governance Challenges

Governing complex IT systems is no small feat, but there are workable solutions for every common application governance challenge. Here are some of the most common challenges when it comes to application governance:

1. Lack of clear governance strategy and ownership

It’s common for managers and IT teams to want to revamp the entire software portfolio at once without truly considering the governance needs of each application. This can lead to confusion across the organization about how applications should be developed, maintained, and utilized. 

Establish comprehensive governance policies that delineate development standards, security measures, and compliance requirements so employees understand expectations and are better equipped to comply.

2. Resistance to change

Discomfort is inevitable when it comes to change. Employees become accustomed to completing tasks in a certain way and find it challenging to adapt to new tools or procedures when rolled out. 

Prioritize communication throughout the development of governance policies and build change management practices into the application governance structure. Careful planning and execution go a long way toward minimizing disruptions and easing personnel through transitions, helping to address internal resistance to change.

3. Inconsistent enforcement of governance policies

Communication/enforcement is vital in application governance – requirements and changes must be communicated and understood before changes are made. All employees should be clear on expectations and understand who to contact if they need assistance. Build detailed process documentation to empower employees through complex and infrequent tasks, and then turn these into in-app guided flows and experiences with Whatfix.

4. Difficulty in managing and monitoring diverse application ecosystems

Businesses of all sizes use software for just about every business function. This makes for complex and diverse software portfolios that can be difficult to coordinate and manage.  

Implement software asset management practices that eliminate redundancy and consolidate application licenses. There are various practical tools on the market today for optimizing software asset management. It’s also critical to assess integration capabilities and choose apps that work well together from deployment.

5. Balancing security and agility requirements

Agility is often a core priority for digital transformation and IT projects, but more focus on agility with proper security infrastructure can create compliance and security issues. 

First and foremost, IT teams should be aware of organizational values and goals to align governance strategies. This provides the context necessary to make decisions when balancing security and agility. Through application governance, IT teams can improve network visibility and automate specific security policies to ensure that security needs are met without hindering productivity or adaptability.

6. Legacy system integration and modernization hurdles

Many organizations retain outdated technology that doesn’t integrate or interact well with more modern applications. Continuing to use legacy systems can limit the agility, scalability, and security of an organization’s IT environment and result in high maintenance costs for the business.

Modernization of software portfolios doesn’t need to happen simultaneously. Determine which legacy systems are most critical to update first, and start phasing them out and replacing them with updated tools. Investing in integration solutions and employee training to facilitate modernization processes can also be helpful.

7. Limited visibility into shadow IT and rogue applications

When organizations have complex software environments, it can be difficult to prevent employees from using applications without IT approval. When this happens, IT teams can become saddled with managing SaaS waste and rogue applications that create inefficiencies and pose security risks. 

Incorporate regular checks and assessments into application governance to detect shadow IT and rogue applications before they become problematic. With software asset management tools, IT teams can require approval for software downloads to build enforcement into governance processes. Communication with employees is also critical here to ensure that they understand not only the requirements, but also why and how they should comply.

8. Resource constraints for governance implementation

Implementing application governance can be costly in terms of both time and funds, depending on the scale of the project. Budget and personnel limitations can hinder the implementation, enforcement, and governance. 

Break down application governance initiatives into smaller components that can be rolled out in order of priority. This allows IT teams to work within budget and gradually improve application management while accumulating data about the costs and benefits of application governance efforts. Software asset management tools can make this easier by incorporating automation and reducing the manpower required to enact governance.

9. Keeping up with evolving compliance regulations

Navigating compliance regulations can become complicated, especially for larger organizations operating across different states or countries. Keeping up with evolving regulations requires detailed monitoring and administration by IT team members. 

Prioritize compliance across business functions and stay abreast of regular compliance standards and audits. To minimize the resources and time required to handle this task,  IT Teams can use software asset management software to automate regular compliance checks and license renewals.

10. Overemphasis on control leading to bureaucracy

While one of the main goals of app governance is overseeing applications and their use, it’s important to emphasize control to the level of sacrificing productivity and innovation. Reaching the point of bureaucracy can backfire, leading to slower processes and negative employee experiences associated with application use.

Aim to strike a balance between control and innovation when crafting governance policies. Leave room to adjust and improve depending on how things play out once implemented.

Application Governance Frameworks

Many organizations use application governance frameworks to establish software-related policies, processes, and controls. These foundations can complement one another and be used in tandem depending on organizational needs. Here are some of the most prominent application governance frameworks used by businesses today:

1. COBIT

Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology, or COBIT, is a framework used by all types of organizations to ensure the effective maintenance of information systems. This framework was developed by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) to empower IT teams, compliance auditors, and business executives to come together to build IT systems. 

This process-based model helps organizations create control requirements that remedy tech issues and business risks by dividing the process into four life-cycle adjacent categories: planning & organization, delivering & support, acquiring & implementing, and monitoring & evaluating. 

COBIT provides a comprehensive set of best practices organizations can use to govern application environments and align IT goals with business objectives.

2. ITIL

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library, or ITIL, is a widely-used set of best practices governing IT services and support to meet evolving business objectives. Since the 1980s, this extensive framework has provided organizations with a systematic approach to manage application-related risk and build predictable IT environments poised to grow and flourish. 

While the ITIL framework is not restricted to establishing application governance, it includes valuable guidelines for managing applications throughout every point in their lifecycles. Currently on its fourth iteration (ITIL 4), this framework prioritizes governance as an essential part of service value.

3. TOGAF

This efficiency-focused architecture governance framework is used by businesses, NGOs, defense agencies, and government agencies. TOGAF stands for The Open Group Architecture Framework, and it’s designed to help IT teams create optimal enterprise architecture for reaching business objectives. 

The TOGAF framework emphasizes the importance of modularization and standardization to design technological architecture and divides architecture into four levels: business, application, data, and technologies. TOGAF centers on optimizing the implementation of change, but it can be adapted to apply to existing governance. 

4. NIST

The NIST cybersecurity framework centers on guiding organizations as they create governance structures to keep IT environments secure. This framework has five core functions: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover, and each of these functions is broken down further into different aspects of IT management. This framework provides a robust foundation for incorporating cybersecurity controls into application governance structure. 

5. ISO/IEC 27001

ISO/IEC 27001 is a globally recognized governance framework established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). 

This security-focused framework defines requirements that an organization’s information security management system (ISMS) should meet. This framework is based on confidentiality, information integrity, and data availability principles that guide IT teams on how to vet people, policies, and technology.

Emerging Trends in Application Governance

As the landscape of information technology and software applications evolves, IT teams must keep up with emerging trends. Here are essential trends shaping how businesses handle application governance today:

1. Impact of emerging technologies like AI and blockchain on governance

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and blockchain technologies have become increasingly prevalent in the IT landscape. By incorporating these technologies into application governance processes, IT teams improve processes through smart data validation, enhanced identity management, and software license monitoring to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of application governance processes.

2. Evolving regulatory and compliance frameworks affecting application governance

As new technology arises and industries evolve, regulatory bodies roll out new compliance requirements that need to be met. By incorporating automated compliance checks into application governance, IT teams can stay ahead of updates and ensure their systems meet requirements.

3. Role of DevOps and DevSecOps in shaping modern governance practices

Collaboration between software development and IT teams, commonly called DevOps, has become an essential part of application governance development. More recently, IT teams are moving beyond traditional DevOps to integrate security practices into the pipeline and create DevSecOps. This trend helps bolster security measures through application development and governance processes.

4. Rise of cloud-native and containerized applications and their governance implications

Cloud-native software is built, tested, and deployed in cloud computing environments. Containerized applications run in isolated software packages containing all the requirements necessary to run on all sorts of devices and operating systems. Containerization allows developers to build cloud-native software for more scalability, agility, and portability.  

The rise of these types of applications requires different governance processes than traditional on-premises software. This has required organizations to adapt governance structures to match.

5. Automation and machine learning for more proactive governance

Automated application governance tools and software are becoming increasingly popular because of their immense benefits to organizations. Automation and machine learning streamline essential tasks related to application testing, deployment, and monitoring, improving application governance overall and promoting a higher level of consistency and security.

6. Increased emphasis on data governance within application governance frameworks

Data governance allows IT teams to incorporate frameworks into application governance to standardize data management and protection across an organization. This trend has allowed teams to break down data silos and democratize data.  Ultimately, this has resulted in improved data quality and privacy, and sustained compliance with necessary data privacy regulations.

7. Integration of governance into the software development lifecycle (SDLC)

Incorporating application governance into every stage of the software development lifecycle has become increasingly popular in recent years. From requirements planning to documentation to design reviews and application testing, governance procedures can facilitate application development at every stage. This integration helps IT proactively secure data and mitigate compliance risks during different stages of software development.

Software Clicks Better With Whatfix

As application governance initiatives are rolled out, digital adoption platforms like Whatfix can make a difference as employees continue using software applications. Whatfix can be used to create interactive in-app guides and policy reminders to optimize how employees use the software. Use its in-app surveys and advanced end-user behavioral analytics to collect qualitative and quantitative feedback to build optimal processes with minimal friction – enabling end-users to become more efficient and maximize their productivity with software.

Empower your employees to make the most of their software resources with Whatfix!

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