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1/13/2014
09:06 AM
John Smith
John Smith
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IT Complexity & The Mosquito Conundrum

It's the little things that suck the lifeblood out of most IT organizations. Those that don't make tech simplicity a priority are doomed.

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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rushfinn
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rushfinn,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/16/2014 | 2:03:19 PM
Design for Simplicity
John,

Great article. For me you addressed the real issue in your last paragraph, "Likewise, IT vendors must make simplicity core to their design mission."

As vendors, we all need to embrace a new mindset of simplicity. The complexity of our IT environment is increasing by virute of being on the steep slope of an exponential grown curve. If we don't all setup and re-DESIGN IT for simplicity, we'll be buried in complexity. 

The good news is that we are starting to see this new mindset in both the infrastructure (scale out vs. scale up) and IT management (IT Management as-a-service).

Nate
johnbsmith
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johnbsmith,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/16/2014 | 9:33:55 AM
Re: Denial
I agree wholeheartedly that IT vendors have generally failed to deliver solutions that are sufficiently simple to evaluate, acquire, deploy and manage.  However, IT vendors will only sell what IT customers buy. So I encourage those buyers to vote with their wallets by being more diligent than ever about making simplicity a top criteria for their technology buys. Our commitment at CA Technologies is to deliver solutions that fulfill that criteria in a competitively differentiated way.
JustNems
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JustNems,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/15/2014 | 8:01:06 AM
Re: Denial
I think that vendors are as much to blame as the IT Organizations here. Large suites of tools seem to imply inherent simplicity, but let's be honest-- that's rarely the case. IT vendors purchase companies, and are then tasked with integrating dissimilar technology into another set of tools. Sure, it's difficult, but when that tool is bundled into a solution suite, it rapidly becomes yet another silo of information, with it's own servers, middleware, and databases.

So while yes, I believe that IT Orgs need to be the real source of the fix, most vendors aren't doing enough to actually provide simpler soltuions.

John Menkart over at CloudBolt wrote about some of the negative impacts of solutions suites, and the associated complexity that occurs when IT showhorns a needlessly complex (and incompliete) tool into their environment just because it "integrates" with other parts of the suite.

Frst and foremost, IT leadership needs to focus on tools that effectively solve their *actual* problems. 
johnbsmith
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johnbsmith,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/14/2014 | 11:37:24 AM
Re: Denial
Break/fix for legacy apps is just one small part of the larger problem. My point was that even new management apps can add to the complexity burden if IT isn't selective about only acquiring solutions that are easy to evaluate, install and own.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
1/13/2014 | 5:21:13 PM
Re: Denial
Is one problem perhaps IT leaders not knowing what their applications really cost to maintain -- not knowing how much staff time that legacy app requires in maintenance, break-fixes, and enhancements?
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/13/2014 | 2:27:22 PM
Re: Denial
I think the ball's in the IT leadership's court. It's not a problem that a company's senior management needs to fix. The IT organization itself must do the fixing -- and do the educating of senior management, if that's also required. 
Lenny Liebmann
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Lenny Liebmann,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2014 | 11:30:01 AM
Denial
One problem is that management tends to be in denial when it comes to the functional capacity of IT staff.  We've done such a good job of doing the unreasonable -- and avoiding out-and-out breakdowns -- that management doesn't fully prioritize reduction of workloads.  When IT screws up, it is viewed as a technical failure on the part of the staff -- not as a result of toxic overloads foisted upon them by denial-based management.
Joe Datacenter
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Joe Datacenter,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/13/2014 | 10:17:41 AM
Re: All Professions
Rob, you are so right -- getting sidetracked by all the little details can be disastrous, especially for those of us who tend to be perfectionists (you know who you are!) But depending on your work environment, overall operations can sometimes run themselves while we obsess over finer points. Maybe not so in IT, where things can go haywire very quickly.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
1/13/2014 | 9:23:51 AM
All Professions
I would imagine this metaphor holds for a range of professions, not just IT, though fewer work environments are more complex than IT ones. We get so busy putting out fires and performing other mundane, often repetitive tasks that we take our eye off the big picture. I like the ring of "simplication as strategy" -- the first step is to recognize the problem and commit to making changes.
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