CXO

Is it time to reduce the complexity of our solutions?

There are many information technology trends to observe if you’re in the business long enough.  For instance, when I began we spent much of our time replacing thin-clients (aging dumb terminals) with full-blown Windows installations and bloated software clients.  The trend was to push more horsepower out to the users and distribute the processing to increasingly powerful PCs.  We then turned around a few years later and began emphasizing bringing applications back to the data center and using thin computing once again.  Now, I am the unfortunate witness to end-user mutinies which are forcing us to return fat-clients to the desktop.  It’s classic centralization versus decentralization, and is a topic worth discussing in its own right.  But I will save that for another day.

Simplifying the solution.  It takes little effort to glance back a few years ago and discover the many IT headlines which quoted CIOs calling for less complexity in their environments.  Fast-forward to 2007 and again we have executives clamoring to reduce the clutter in their complex systems.  Companies have enough issues getting quality products to customers, and don’t necessarily need overly integrated computer systems which could crash and put a screeching halt to their entire business. 

Competition, the push for collaboration and the lack of interoperability between disparate systems has gotten us to our current state of IT dependency.  Custom interfaces and a large dose of middleware abound to create a web of intricate information pathways.  One down system or interface leads to adverse effects felt throughout the entire corporation.  IT pros feel the stress of supporting such intricate systems too, and typically spend more than three quarters of their time performing maintenance and upgrades to existing systems.

Doing more with less.  There seems to be an initial surge in the adoption of new technologies which can possibly, just maybe, get companies ahead of their competition.  It’s a juggling act for CIOs.  On one hand, they must attempt to provide support for a rapidly increasing number of systems, and therefore shoulder more responsibility for the success of the company.  And on the other, they must do all of this efficiently with stagnant staff levels and overall declining IT budgets.  It’s no wonder they turn to collaborative software tools and service-oriented architecture to deliver innovative solutions. 

Unintended consequences.  The problem with tying everything together and jumping first to implement new solutions is that it makes system rollouts and post-implementation support a much more complex endeavor than it ever used to be.  Project scopes have increased dramatically and there is now a domino effect resulting from one failed system that can have negative consequences on otherwise separate business units. 

These larger projects, which require more cross-departmental collaboration and an increased staff skill level, are also much more susceptible to scope creep and going far beyond the initial project budget.  This can ultimately lead to untimely conclusions to job tenures and management changes.  Just ask Philadelphia CIO, Terry Phyllis, who has faced harsh criticism after a failed water bill project based on an Oracle provided solution went more than two times over the budgeted amount and must now be ripped out and replaced.

Managing the solution.  There are many IT staffs walking a thin line between complete system failure and a good night’s rest.  The more bound a business is to its IT solutions, the more critical it is to properly manage and maintain the system’s health.  This is exactly why we will see more businesses spending IT dollars this year on systems management, alert monitoring and problem resolution tools than previous years.  For instance, major vendors HP and IBM have developed solution offerings such as the Adaptive Infrastructure and Autonomic Computing to assist with a more adaptive, self-managing IT system.

There are only so many new systems and technologies a team of IT pros, however skilled, can implement before it becomes critical to take a step back from the frenzied pace and analyze the existing solutions.  Integrating everything may not always be the best course of action.  Sometimes simplifying can lead to more satisfied customers and staff.

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