Understanding IT Complexity

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In all the years I’ve spent in and around the IT function, I’ve never seen tech complexity so high. IT is stressing under the weight of applications, emerging tech, vendors and systems and sans the support of a seamless, flexible and sturdy integrated infrastructure. This complexity is happening as the CIO and the IT function face immense pressure to spend more time on “change-the-business” versus “run-the-business.” IT is being pulled in two different directions as its resources are stretched thin. Almost 50% of the IT budget is outside of the CIO’s control, according to our Digital IQ survey. Delays, failures, missed opportunities and wasted spending has become all too common. Something has to give before IT breaks.

While not a simple diagnosis, there are 5 specific causes for this complexity that are worth considering for your own organization.  Each problem area has a proven and programmatic approach for assessing, prioritizing and simplifying.

1. Waxy Build-Up of the Applications Portfolio

Duplicative, overlapping, neglected applications are piling up and weighing down enterprise infrastructures. This waxy build-up accumulates through seemingly-unique business unit application investments, attempts to appease the squeaky wheels of the organization, by acquiring non-standard apps through M&A and a general unwillingness to tell the last few users of a system that it’s being retired. I’ve seen 20+ CRM and ERP instances in larger companies across industries when only a few are needed.  Get a handle on this problem by cataloging the top 100 or so applications and the business functions, number of users, last login dates/times, peak loads, and system resources consumed and using this to identify your priorities for action.

2. Emerging Technology Acceleration and Assimilation

New technologies are emerging at a frantic pace and injecting IT with a sense of unsettling urgency. In response, IT often acts too fast or too slow to explore emerging technology. In some cases, IT throws technologies against the wall to see what sticks without business context, wasting time and money and future opportunities to invest in exploration. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some organizations are stifled by the array of emerging tech choices and don’t act at all, yet remain mentally distracted by the possibilities. IT needs to discard, promote and refine ideas based on the organization’s strategic business goals.  Get started by defining the business lens you will use to filter the long list of emerging technologies.  The filter could be a business process, set of use cases or list business capabilities.  Then, score each emerging tech for its potential to create new value against your specific business lens.

3. Lack of Investment in Integration and Interfaces

Integration architectures are in need of a refresh. Most organizations are relying on a mix of integration technologies and practices like point-to-point, message busses, and SOA that are dated or too complex to maintain. Making one change can set off a chain reaction of necessary changes and maintaining the skills to deal with it all is daunting.  I believe application integration is the most neglected and underrated investment in the enterprise.  Start the simplification process by cataloging all of the interfaces by the applications it connects and the technique it uses.  Also, get a summary of all of the 3rd party infrastructure, tools and middleware used for interfaces.  I bet you will find some obvious redundancies.

4. Heterogeneous Technology Environments

IT used to own their data centers. And, when they brought vendors on board, the vendors were limited in number and scope. Now, IT has to manage multiple operating systems and vendors, and a set of cloud platforms, hosting apps and data on different sets of software stacks. IT can define policies and procedures all its wants but at the end of the day IT can’t dictate a vendor’s underlying architecture or make it fit perfectly into their environment, dictating a much more flexible approach to managing the organization’s tech landscape.

5. The Digital Disconnect

Who owns digital? Is it marketing or IT or do enterprises need a Chief Digital Officer? A lack of clarity on leadership results in fragmented treatment of digital, spanning hiring, systems design, vendor relationships, and treatment of digital-related work like social media analytics. Left out of the loop, people feel offended, creating additional disconnection and noise. Outside cloud systems are purchased, data is trapped in silos and disintegration leads to dissatisfied end users.  I think there are some straight-forward ways to get clear on digital accountability.

Is IT on the verge of breaking?  What does the IT organization of the future look like and how will it handle increasing complexity?

Image shared by andybient

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