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Another technology that was expected to make life easier for CIOs but has done the opposite in some cases is service-oriented architecture. "SOA was supposed to make the world simple, but that is a gross misconception," says The Hackett Group's Dorr. "You are really introducing far more moving parts, you are breaking things up. SOA doesn't reduce complexity, it actually allows for a higher level of complexity." That's been the case, as least short-term, at MD Anderson. SOA has required a massive staff retraining effort. "In some ways it's making things more complicated, mostly because of the transition," Vogel says.
But he expects over time SOA will help the company comply with privacy regulations: "It allows us to expose the data, but not move it, and that is less risky" than sending data across the network, Vogel says.
If virtualization and service-oriented architecture are two of the top technological troublemakers when it comes to IT complexity, surely mobility is the third. BlackBerrys, Palms and now iPhones find their way into the enterprise through front and back doors. While these gadgets can be fantastic time savers, they will forever make the lives of IT professionals more complicated.
"Complexity has been increasing because the business always wants to move faster," says Chris Koc, CTO at The Facility Group, a $300 million design-build firm in Smyrna, Ga. "It used to be rare that a project got put on the fast track, but now it seems like everything is fast tracked. And it doesn't matter if the business is growing or slowing. There were times when we were downsizing, and IT was expected to pick up the slack. So it's always faster, faster, faster."
One way The Facility Group has been addressing its need for speed is through mobile devices. But the mobility movement is compounding complexity at the small firm. "Our CRM system has its own complexity, and Blackberrys weren't even around when it was bought, so now we're trying to make this work somehow," Koc says. The business side, ever more tech savvy, now wants all its data on mobile devices. "I want it to be secure, legal and stable," Koc says. "But they just want it quick."
There's only one way to manage complexity, Koc says: Plan for it. "The biggest thing is not letting any project start without a stakeholder who clearly understands the risks." Complexity is not a bad thing, he adds, as long as everyone involved understands the costs and risks, and it's clear who'll take responsibility if there's a cost overrun. Koc also limits the number of projects a given IT staffer works on simultaneously, to prevent burnout. And he doesn't roll out any new technology before thorough testing.