What To Do?
Complexity is inevitable, but the goal is a cost-efficient and easily managed system. The frequently cited analogy is the modern car, which is far more complicated than a Model A, but also far easier to drive.
In the short term, CIOs can take advantage of new technologies that help manage pieces of their complexity by automatically monitoring and configuring systems, and thus freeing up people. A number of companies have sprung up recently to offer just that. Out of his war room experience at Wachovia, for example, Edden launched a team that designed software to monitor the systems and give business executives a total view, via the intranet, of a technology service such as the corporate banking application. It observes applications as they operate and isolates problems so system administrators can fix them quickly. The software spread around Wachovia by "sneaker net," and in 1999 Edden cofounded a subsidiary, Silas Technologies Inc., to sell the software to other companies.
"Our solution allows senior management to observe real-time the health of both IT and operational investments," Edden says. "It's not a toolset for the network administrator. It reports on the health of complex architectures by exercising those services and subservices. Home banking, for example, might be periodically tested for availability for the customer, but it will look into subservices like the mainframe, database or Web server. Not only does a manager know whether he has a problem or not but also where the problem most likely is."
But others warn that many of the vendor offerings allegedly designed to help solve the complexity problem do little more than add yet another application onto companies' already overburdened architectures. Such technologies "provide some management monitoring of a complex environment, but that doesn't in and of itself reduce complexity. It just gives you a better idea of what's going on," says Gartner research director Debra Curtis. "Hopefully, such tools don't compound the complexity. In reality, you have to introduce structure into the environment, eliminate complexity, reduce the vendor choices."
To get at the root of the problem, companies need a complete picture of their IT architectures. Knowing how much money they're wasting with current systems is the first step toward cleaning them up through rationalization or integration. Or they could spring for a whole new architecture—but who can afford it? "No IT department has the time or budget to do that kind of wholesale forklift change to a structured environment," says Curtis. That's the great dilemma facing most CIOs dealing with complexity.
But cleaning things up requires discipline. Says Mercer's Lapsley: "You have to get under the hood. First, you have to make sure you have a very good process in place to control and prioritize your discretionary spending. Then you have to look at the infrastructure spending that is supporting not only the discretionary projects now and in the future, but also projects that are already in place. You have to ask, 'How many platforms are we supporting? What's the driving business need for them? What are the costs to rationalize them? What is the game plan for doing so?'"
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