In the jungle, they say, it's not the elephants that get to you -- it's the mosquitoes. In other words, your biggest problem often isn't your biggest problem. It's all your little problems combined.
This state of affairs is especially true when it comes to IT complexity. While media outlets tend to focus on big disasters such as day-long service provider outages and massive data thefts, the more pervasive threat to IT is complexity -- the old "death by a thousand cuts."
Every day, countless little tasks, emergencies, and glitches erode IT's productivity. Individually, none of these is headline news. Collectively, they prevent almost every IT organization from successfully doing what the business really needs it to do. By sucking IT's lifeblood one sip at a time, complexity inexorably drains the IT organization of what it needs to be a truly transforming business partner.
More complexity, more problems
Technical complexity is only going to increase. IT keeps adding more infrastructure, applications, and services. Virtualization, for all its virtues, only exacerbates this complexity, as does the fact that more and more IT services are cobbled together using multiple database, application, and middleware components.
To make matters worse, companies are demanding that their IT organizations update applications -- especially customer- and partner-facing mobile apps -- more frequently to keep pace with changing market requirements. So IT operations can no longer safeguard the stability of the IT environment by simply saying no to new code.
IT organizations that don't pursue better ways to cope with this complexity are doomed. Even as they pat themselves on the back for not experiencing a disastrous outage or security breach, their ability to deliver competitive advantages efficiently will continue to evaporate. The result will be the irrelevance of IT to the business -- and, by extension, the irrelevance of the business to customers.
Simplification as strategy
There's no magic bullet for dealing with complexity. Instead, IT leaders must take a strategic approach to simplifying and streamlining processes across their organizations.
That strategic approach requires more than just buying from fewer vendors or offloading certain functions to cloud providers. To stem the tide of complexity, IT leaders must place a premium on simplicity in every aspect of their operations, including technology evaluation, acquisition, implementation, and management. Only by elevating simplicity to an organizational imperative can IT fulfill its strategic mission even as its underlying infrastructure and services continue to grow more technically complex.
Likewise, IT vendors must make simplicity core to their design mission. Vendors that aren't part of the simplicity solution are part of the complexity problem. And that problem, untreated, may turn out to be the most pernicious one IT has faced.
John Smith is general manager of the Infrastructure Management business at CA Technologies, responsible for managing the company's broad portfolio of systems and network management offerings. He has extensive experience in IT management software and broad knowledge of both large-scale systems and new business models
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