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Managing Complexity in IT, Part 3: The Approach

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Concluding his series on dealing with IT complexity, Richard Murch discusses strategies for dealing with this growing problem.
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In this final article of three, we'll review and summarize the subject of IT complexity and put forward strategies to deal with the situation.

Complexity is everywhere—in our work, home, culture, and lifestyle. For example, consider the American income tax system. Each year, millions of Americans wrestle with their income tax returns. The laws are so complicated that one in five of the nation's taxpayers wait until the final week in April to file their taxes by the deadline. In 2002, 27.1 million taxpayers—more than 20%—waited until the last minute to submit their income tax returns.

We don't see any slowing in the progression of Moore's law. Rather, the information technology industries' exploitation of the technologies from Moore's law are leading us to the verge of a complexity crisis. Each time we install a new IT system, we add to the existing level of complexity.

Software companies have massive computing power to produce ever more complex applications that run on even more complex IT infrastructures. Add the domino effect of networks and communications technology, and complexity is increased by several orders of magnitude.

Software producers aren't providing much, if any, relief from the traditional organizational need to customize enterprise applications. They pose system and network management challenges that also aren't getting any simpler to handle. Result? More complexity, which means more time and more resources required to manage the complexity.

IT Complexity Transformation

Corporations need comprehensive assessments to determine the sources and levels of complexity, and then transformation to rid the corporation of these perils. Corporations can take immediate steps to untangle most of their unwanted IT complexity simply by focusing on six specific activities, which together will help them transform the way they use and manage IT, thus making IT organizations leaner and companies better prepared:

  • Understand and target the root causes of complexity.

  • Install self-management systems such as autonomic computing.

  • Consider consolidation of hardware and software.

  • Regenerate the company's IT architecture.

  • Plan for outsourcing of certain applications.

  • Develop a management culture that addresses complexity in IT.

By reducing IT complexity, corporations position themselves to benefit as their growth continues. Then, when they need to add systems, they will be able to do so more quickly and far less expensively. For example, adding an application to a streamlined, integrated IT platform requires less systems development and integration work for successful implementation.

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