Managing complexity is likely the single most daunting responsibility of Information Technology managers. Without diligent design, planning, and oversight, the proliferation of server hardware, platforms, laptops, workstations, desktop operating systems, personal productivity software, office suites, data networks, voice networks, storage area networks, network attached storage, robotic backup libraries, administration tools, system monitoring, custom applications, messaging systems, wiring closets, data centers, firewalls, spam filters, antivirus, anti-malware, wikis, blogs, help desks, mobile devices, data warehouses, business intelligence, CRM, ERP, SaaS, web services, portals, intranets, extranets, racks, copper, fiber, whatever else the trade magazines tout as being the next big thing, and every other esoteric component that makes its way into the enterprise will create an impossibly complex mess of technology that requires every ounce of fortitude to manage effectively.
Woe is the IT manager. The businesses that IT organizations support most likely do not understand the enormity of the undertaking that has become IT management; unfortunately for the besieged IT manager, they don’t have to and shouldn’t have to understand. Businesses need to know what they will get in return for their IT investment dollar, and they need to have faith that IT will continuously deliver increasingly complex and difficult services to meet the increasingly complex and difficult business requirements that emerge in a rapidly globalizing marketplace. This is the reality of the situation, and because there is little sympathy for IT managers that have to deal with this on a daily basis, there is but one course of action that can be taken to address the situation – reduce the complexity that hangs like an albatross around the neck of the Information Technology function by simplifying and standardizing how IT operates.
It is understood that there are times when the role of IT management requires a degree of heroics; even the most well-oiled of IT departments experience emergencies from time to time. One of the fundamental problems that has led to the current state of pervasive complexity in Information Technology is the tendency of IT workers to view themselves as firefighters and puzzle-solvers, always on the ready for whatever catastrophe or hair-on-fire business requirement comes their way. While this mindset may have been an asset in the pioneering days of Information Technology as an organizational function, it lends itself to a short view of a world where the reality is that one not only has to see the proverbial “forest for the trees,” but has to see beyond the forest and understand how decisions and actions impact far beyond the walls of the organization. Every new component or entity introduced to an IT ecosystem necessarily increases the complexity of the environment; when the current state of affairs requires less complexity in the environment, every action that potentially impacts such complexity needs to be well planned and executed, and optimally is driven by a strategic framework that is developed with the specific goal of managing and reducing complexity at its core. Organizations that do not mature beyond a state of heroics and short-term solutions will never reach the level of forward and holistic thinking required to successfully conquer complexity.