The information technology that enables scientific and commercial breakthroughs, from precision medicine to digital transformation, demonstrates tech’s boundless potential to improve our world. Yet, tech practitioners have long traded progress for increased complexity.
IT complexity, seen in spiraling IT infrastructure costs, multi-cloud frameworks that require larger teams of software engineers, the proliferation of data capture and analytics, and overlapping cybersecurity applications, is the hallmark—and also the bane—of the modern enterprise.
With a better understanding of IT complexity, large enterprises can partner with their strategic vendors to reduce IT complexity and drive more innovation and business success from it.
Complexity Continues to Increase
Complexity exhausts IT budgets and workers—a widespread problem that worsened during the pandemic. Seventy percent of executives say that IT complexity has been a growing challenge for their organization over the past two years, according to Broadcom Software-sponsored research by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. While 85% of executives state that reducing IT complexity is an organizational priority, only 27% said their company had managed it effectively.
Regarding complexity, David Linthicum, managing director and chief cloud strategy officer at Deloitte Consulting LLP, comments that “over the last five years, people have been migrating to the cloud and using more complex distributed deployments, such as multi-cloud, edge computing, IoT, and things like that.”
The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report Taming IT Complexity through Effective Strategies and Partnerships discusses the root causes of IT complexity and the penalties organizations pay for failing to undertake an effective complexity-reduction strategy. In the report, Linthicum describes multi-cloud as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” because rather than centralize all enterprise data in a single cloud, companies are expanding their investments in multiple areas and trying to stitch all the pieces together.
Seeking Solutions to IT Complexity
Not all IT solutions work as intended. A recurring problem known as “legacy spaghetti” occurs when IT teams layer on new technology solutions “that are disparate, siloed, and unorganized,” according to the report.
Nearly two-thirds of executives in the study indicate that incompatible systems and technologies are the top factors fueling IT complexity. Not surprisingly, 67% of respondents said employees are frustrated or confused by persistent complexity, with three-in-five noting that it costs money and creates unnecessary additional work.
Though complexity has plagued data centers since the days of mainframes and punch cards, the study indicates that:
- 82% of executives view IT complexity as an impediment to success.
- 81% believe that reducing it creates a competitive advantage.
- 73% agree that IT complexity is an organizational expense.
- 36% of respondents say that reducing complexity in security creates more resilient systems—less vulnerable to security breaches.
At long last, the tide may be turning. According to the study, most organizations have developed specific strategies to reduce IT complexity and create operational efficiency. While there are many steps a company can take to minimize complexity, starting with simpler tools, enterprises can also partner with firms that specialize in complexity reduction to boost IT agility. In the study, three-in-five executives agree that working with a trusted partner is key to reducing complexity.
The report does point out, however, that all complexity is not bad. Innovation is the cornerstone of success for nearly all companies today. But innovation can require a certain level of complexity, meaning that ongoing innovation requires continual attention to the complexity it inevitably will create. “Executing innovation initiatives at scale involves risk-reward calculations all along the journey because there will be missteps and even failures. Innovation initiatives almost always require individuals with diverse expertise and experience, including from outside the organization, to collaborate and experiment together,” says Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration, at the Harvard Business School, where she is also chair of the Leadership Initiative. “The more complex whatever you’re trying to do, by definition, the riskier it is.”
A partner might have done this dozens of times with several other companies, and so we learn from that and ask, ‘What were lessons learned, and how can we accelerate quick-win improvements?- Jason Duigou, CIO of Indianapolis-based Medxcel, a healthcare facilities services company, in the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report.
Nine Ways to Improve IT Complexity
The report also highlights nine practices to enable firms to improve the way they manage IT complexity:
- Develop a common language around IT complexity—identifying a project’s complexity risk helps firms prioritize resources better.
- Find a balance between innovation and complexity—too much customization creates burdens, adds costs, and spikes risk.
- Take a modular approach to transformation—tackle new features incrementally to reduce stress on legacy systems.
- Get the C-suite on board—the study indicates that not all senior executives understand the weight of the problem. Complexity reduction needs funding and executive support.
- Retire redundant technologies—phasing out incompatible systems and redundant technologies is the most common complexity-reduction program, according to the study.
- Connect systems and increase compatibility—API-first strategies can help reduce the complexity of connecting disparate applications and improve system interoperability.
- Train employees—organizations that excel at reducing complexity tend to train their employees to promote better utilization of existing tools and systems.
- Create feedback loops—mitigating complexity starts with listening to how customers and employees experience a service or product. Feedback can help eliminate unnecessary features that lead to unwanted complexity.
- Develop metrics and measure progress, but see things through—measuring progress against objectives and appropriate peer groups can help improve IT complexity reduction efforts.
The report points out that there are no easy or inexpensive ways to reduce IT complexity. Companies that stand out as leaders in this effort tend to focus on limiting rather than trying to halt the constant march of complexity. Download the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report now to learn more.
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