IT Managers See No End to Technology Complexity

SAN FRANCISCO—Driving complexity out of IT operations is a major theme of this week’s Gartner Inc.’s Symposium/IT Expo here, But attendees remain skeptical that they can use technology or managerial skills to make any headway against what is a persistent and insidious problem.

There seems to be no end in sight to the increasing complexity of IT technology and operations, said Sue Amodeo, director of open systems with the city of New York’s IT department.

“What with wireless communications, virtual networks and virtual servers,” IT operations are as complex as ever, she said. The complexity is increasing even as organizations look for ways to downsize and outsource their IT departments, she said.

“I don’t see how this is going to begin to happen,” Amodeo said. With each new wave of automation, “there is going to be so much more complexity,” she said.

Corporate management and end users have to work with IT to find ways to reduce complexity and focus effort on projects that return the most benefit to the business, said John Herr, senior IS director with Weyth Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Philadelphia.

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Herr attended a session on the “End of the IT Department” presented by Gartner Group Vice President Neil MacDonald that suggested that within 10 years IT services will be automated and simplified to such a degree that end users will be able to do a lot of their technical support and system configuration.

“I found that particular session to be out of sync with what is really possible,” Herr said. MacDonald may have been talking about an IT “utopia,” What MacDonald described as an achievable goal in 10 years “is a 30- or 50-year problem,” and there is still the questions of what may crop up in the meantime that brings new complexity into IT management, he said.

A more important and perhaps achievable goal for IT is “to do a better job of convincing the business” that IT is “strategic and we need to get [managers] to use us for strategic purposes” as opposed to lower priority tactical issues, Herr said.

The key would be to persuade managers to use commercial software “out of the box” for all the essential business applications. They also need to be willing to “change business processes to make them compatible with out-of-the-box software,” he said.

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Companies should be using standard ERP (enterprise resource planning) packages from SAP AG or Oracle Corp., he said. “Many of our processes are administrative and bureaucratic as we should be modifying these packages” to handle these processes that won’t necessarily help the organization achieve competitive advantage, said Herr.

Currently IT resources are too often used to develop business process applications that “are not mission-critical or strategic,” he said. “We need to take our precious IT resources and apply them to competitive advantage solutions,” instead of standard business processes, Herr said.

Organizations have to find ways to reduce IT complexity if they are going to remain competitive in a global economy, said Paul Bakutis, CIO with Ahlstrom Corp., a manufacturer of specialty papers in Windsor Locks, Conn.

“That is a problem that we in the industry are facing constantly,” he said. As technology becomes increasingly more complex, the problem is to find ways to use it that will help an organization in cutting costs and “doing more with less,” he said.

Reducing complexity is a goal “that you try not to lose sight of as the business demands more and expects more, especially with the intense competition globally that keeps you constantly squeezing more cost, more efficiency, more productivity,” out of operations, Bakutis said.

IT departments will always have to deal with complexity, and there is no way to eliminate it all together. “But I think you can keep it at manageable levels” while helping to keep the company competitive, he said.

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