CGE&Y's Reinhold prefers to attack the problem by rationalizing all the many technology standards large companies tend to acquire over the years. But you can't simply assign standards and then replace everything that isn't compatible. "Instead, most companies should look at the total complexity in their environment and say, 'OK, out of all the standards I have, I am picking these to be my standards going forward. And every opportunity I get, every natural event that causes me to evolve, I am going to evolve to the same standard. And over time, I will dramatically reduce my complexity.'"
Ultimately, reducing IT complexity will mean examining the complexity of the business processes IT supports. "If you're able to sort out the business processes, there's obviously still a big technical challenge, but it's much easier to proceed," Subbakrishna says. "The difficulty is when you can't sort out the business processesyou basically have to build a system that's capable of doing everything, and that creates the complexity."
In fact, the first piece of advice IBM CIO Phil Thompson gives to customers isn't about technology: "First of all, if you don't have a formal system of governance, get one. And have it very clear what role you're going to play in the process and what role all the other participants are going to play, including the senior leadership of the company from the chairman on down. Second, as part of that governance, you need to put in place an enterprise architecture board that helps you understand your architecture, starting at the layer of process and working all the way through applications, data and then machines. They also have to drive compliance across the company so that no renegades are out doing things that are not compliant."
In other words, complexity must be fought not just in the technical trenches but at the highest levels of the corporation. It's a question of aligning the culture around simplicity.