Simpler IT, Better IT

Opinion: The costs of complexity are huge and no longer tolerable.

At the risk of coining a slogan as meaningful as "The year of the LAN" of days gone by, Im going to name 2005 "The Year of Killing Complexity."

Of all the challenges facing IT, the No. 1 enemy is complexity. We have spaghetti code; exploded noodle factories behind our server racks; a dogs dish filled with table scraps of security products; and a potpourri of equipment, be it PCs, servers, SANs, routers, switches or other hardware. In fact, we may be beyond complexity and devolving into anarchy.

IT departments are hard-pressed to meet the demands for business alignment, not because IT staffs are incapable or poorly trained, but because so many IT resources are devoted to keeping the overly complex infrastructures running. According to research by Gartner, in 1990, more than 60 percent of the internal development resources at organizations were focused on new applications or systems. Today, that number has dropped to 20 percent, and 80 percent is busy maintaining the rest of the stuff. The culprit? Complexity.

Killing complexity is easier said than done. Its not as if you could turn off the ERP system for a couple of quarters while you replace it. You cant take away e-mail for a few months to consolidate and combine servers. Killing complexity requires a long-term commitment. You need a clear vision and persistence in the face of obstacles.

First, pretend some disaster has wiped out your data center, PCs, co-location site and network—poof! Starting with a clean sheet of paper, sketch out your IT infrastructure so that it is efficient, simple and flexible. Now compare that design with what you have now. Make plans to move to the new scheme where you can.

Second, break some salespeoples hearts. Dealing with an unnecessarily large number of vendors creates complexity. Yes, there is a risk in putting all your eggs in one basket, but you dont have to choose just one. Just dont choose four!

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about GMs plans to cut complexity.

Third, examine your software systems closely. View new applications and upgrades in terms of their platforms. Look for ways to use your existing database or ERP system rather than adding a new one. In one instance, a company implementing a sales productivity solution decided on a vendor other than its CRM vendor, and this choice created extra integration work. However, company leaders subsequently determined that with a few custom reports from their CRM system, they could get 95 percent of what they wanted, and it would take only one month and cost less than $10,000.

Being trapped by the past is the road to failure. The costs that complexity exacts from IT organizations are huge and no longer tolerable. IT pros must move with alacrity to support the business processes and goals of their organizations. Lets make 2005 "The Year of Killing Complexity."

Aaron Goldberg is a vice president of Ziff Davis Media Market Experts. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community and welcomes contributions. Send submissions to

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