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Addressing the Problem

This new threat to progress and success must be addressed; there is no future in the status quo. To let IT infrastructures and architectures become increasingly complex with no action is unacceptable and irresponsible. If we simply throw more skilled programmers and others at this problem, chaos will be the order of the day. Reliability and performance of critical corporate applications will be called into question. Confidence in IT's ability to manage, already battered, will be the next question on senior management's checklist. Until IT vendors and users alike solve the problem of complexity, the same problems will be repeated and will continue to plague the industry. There is no way that these complexities can be managed through skilled staff alone, even if any are available.

Clarity and simplicity are two of the rare words in the English languages that are so basic, so fundamental, they are virtually without definition. We know when we have it, but it can be very elusive. We need both clarity and simplicity—in our lives and our businesses—if we want to move forward:

  • Clarity is crucial. Questions in business need to be asked routinely: "Is there a simpler way? What will be the impact of this decision on the business in terms of added complexity?" At present, these questions are rarely asked in the IT world.

  • Simplicity won't always win the war against complexity. But it has a much better chance of doing so if you take the first step and make the commitment to simplicity as a value. One small step for you, one giant step for your business. For example, we can simplify by implementing some of the new self-managing software that's just beginning to appear on the market.

There is much work to do. The very first step for IT is to acknowledge that we have a problem with complexity. A few forward-thinking CIOs have just begun to recognize the scale of the problem. Unfortunately, many other IT staff are in denial. Many corporations need to construct a complexity reduction policy that takes a hard look at infrastructures, applications, methods, networks, resources, volumes, software, and many other factors. Such a policy sets out an approach and recommendations for dealing with complexity and presents solutions that are both quantifiable and realistic. Managing and reducing complexity and moving to simpler or more transparent solutions won't be easy, but we must make a start.

IT costs soared in the 1990s and beyond as corporations adopted systems and applications to support new channels and products, expansion into new markets, and tighter coordination with suppliers. The pace of competition often meant that such companies implemented these systems as quickly as humanly possible (in "Internet time") without fully integrating them with existing systems—and retiring older ones—or making the business changes needed to exploit the technology's potential for streamlining business activities. As a result, corporations not only failed to get the benefits they expected, but made the supporting technology—and often the processes themselves—more complex to manage, as well as more costly. IT then had to maintain the old systems alongside the new ones. For example, because of partially implemented e-procurement systems, it was not uncommon that a purchasing department would handle some interactions electronically and others manually. Double complexity. By eliminating this kind of IT-related complexity, corporations position themselves to benefit when growth returns. They'll need to add systems, but they'll be able to do so more quickly and far less expensively by pruning complexity now. For example, adding an application to a streamlined, integrated IT platform requires less systems development and integration work.

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