Complexity: The Upside
Will IT ever be rote, like, say, accounting? Doubtful. But that's okay. The key to managing IT complexity is to accept that a certain amount of it is inevitable. Successful IT shops will confine complexity to specific areas. "It is critical for organizations to understand what is core to their business; these are areas where they need to manage more complexity," Gartner's Young says. "Then there is the context, or things that are peripheral to the core business, that can be standardized and even outsourced, and where less complexity is necessary."
To that end, CIOs have been doing a good job moving complexity "up the stack." The basic protocol issues and telecom concerns of years past have been addressed, for the most part. Servers, networking and storage are largely standardized, relatively easy to consolidate, and simple to maintain. Indeed, forecasts for the next five years show the lion's share of spending growth will be in software and services, while hardware and telecom spending will remain stable. This means complexity has gotten closer to the business side of the equation, the application portfolio. And that's where it should be, because networking equipment, storage and servers are never going to differentiate a business. Powerful, and sometimes custom-built, applications are.
"Certain issues, like connectivity, have been resolved to a sufficient level, so the complexity is moving from a technology level to a business level," Young says. "And there is a lot of experimentation going on, multiple solutions to a problem to see what sticks, all of which requires sophistication and adaptability. But these are not bad things."
To take advantage of all that IT has to offer, companies must allow for some level of complexity. Young identifies two distinct IT organization profiles: culturally moderate companies, which are rigorous about investment decisions, allow for very little uncertainty and manage their application portfolios closely; and culturally aggressive companies, which feel tech investments cost them up front but pay off long-term through innovation and growth.
No matter which camp you're in, one thing won't change: IT complexity is here to stay. "The rate of churn around IT is not going to stabilize, because this is the area that has the most invention happening," Young says. "But that doesn't mean you can't systematize IT. It's not easy, but you can have it both ways."