Simplicity could be the key to IT’s success
Anyone can make things complex, but does it really take a genius to make it simple?
Complexity in IT is not a choice. It often feels like it simply “happened” to us. Even the smallest companies find that the simple IT environment they started with suddenly looks more complex than they ever expected. Larger enterprises have experienced this for decades already and despite (or because of) many technologic advances such as virtualization, cloud services, new legislation, enhanced security, integration with social media and more our IT Infrastructures are more complex than ever.
This probably is the most important lesson because if we keep doing what we did, we keep getting what we already have. And history can teach us a lesson or two that we may have forgotten. Almost every company I know started with a simple IT Infrastructure; whether it was more than 30 years ago with a mainframe and dumb terminals, or 20 years ago with a few Unix servers, one or more Novell servers or even a Windows environment. But as the business evolved, business people started buying applications that came with their own hardware (AS400), where only a few people had access initially, and then soon every office worker had a PC or workstation.
We implemented bigger and better networks, with more routers, we moved from one or two servers to dedicated file/print servers, mail servers, database and application servers. We acquired companies which standardized on slightly different applications, hardware or operating systems. And we started using the Internet, implemented virtualized servers, cloud services and the list goes on.
Our IT Infrastructure changed overtime from a manageable, almost static environment to a living, ever evolving organism. From the companies surveyed, mergers and acquisitions was mentioned as the primary cause of IT complexity with more than 40 percent stating this is a big factor, closely followed by geographic distribution. Surprisingly, the influence of “the business” was cited by 83 percent of the respondents claiming that this has a big or “some” impact on their environment. The old IT adage that “old stuff” never seems to go away is as true today as it was 15 years ago with 83 percent of the respondents mentioning this as a reason for their complex infrastructure.
Other (more controllable) causes of IT complexity mentioned are: the mix of skills and experience (teams select technologies they know) as well as IT staff preferences (people select the technology they like). Not surprising, a whopping 72 percent claimed that inadequate procurement policies (standards and guidelines are not adhered to when acquiring new software) as well as “fads and fashions” (the desire to use the latest hot technologies) have a big (21 percent) to “some impact” (50 percent) effect on IT complexity as well.
There are really three causes for IT complexity; the business, policies and procedures and technology.
This sounds like a simple one; the business makes the decisions, so all IT can do is follow, right? Well, not always. True, IT cannot control mergers and acquisitions and things like geographical distribution, but IT CAN create an IT Infrastructure that is open and flexible enough to deal with the impact these can have. Also, in today’s app economy, every business is in the IT business and unless IT is closely involved in strategy and execution of new business initiatives, IT will not be seen as an enabler. A more efficient, agile, open and responsive IT environment will help IT respond faster to these initiatives allowing the business to go ahead with what they do best.
Procurement discipline, fads and fashions, inadequate procurement policies and even deliberate multi-sourcing strategies (to avoid vendor lock-in) are mentioned as a cause for complexity. This came somewhat as a surprise because policies around procurement of hardware and software are often implemented to reduce complexity. But IT thinks that this clearly shows that either the IT Architecture that should be the base of these policies is either ignored, or the procurement process is not strict enough to force people to adhere to the policies. One reason could be that we cannot update and change our policies quickly enough to keep up with the fast pace of technology.
The problem is that many technologies in the past all had the potential to do exactly that, but that most of them simply added to the complexity.
IT professionals love their technology and any new technology is accompanied management software for that particular technology. The software is hardly ever integrated with other management software apps. Also stealthware products such as open source utilities, and other brilliant solutions that start as “sandbox only” products often quickly land in the production environment running, monitoring and managing mission-critical transactions with no connection to the already implemented management infrastructure. And that infrastructure is managed by directors whose job it is to run an efficient, flexible, managed IT business that heavily relies on service-level agreements with the business.
Technology has brought us where we are today, struggling with a very complex IT Infrastructure. But technology also has to promise to get us out of there.