As organizations race to transform their businesses digitally, IT complexity is increasing dramatically, according to a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services study sponsored by Broadcom Software.
Seventy percent of executives surveyed said IT complexity has been a growing challenge
for their organization over the past two years, and 82% of survey respondents said they view IT complexity as an impediment to success.
The top three root causes of IT complexity are:
- incompatible systems and technologies
- regulatory compliance requirements
- operating a hybrid IT environment
"We work with some of the largest organizations in the world, and we see IT complexity on the rise mostly due to the accelerated transformation to digital — siloed technology stacks, increased regulation, managing multiclouds, and security enforcements," said Broadcom Software CTO Andy Nallappan.
The most concerning finding in the survey is the juxtaposition of two particular data points, he said.
While 70% of respondents say IT complexity has been a growing challenge over the past two years, only 21% say their company is able to match the high priority they place on reducing IT complexity with effective management of it.
The Complexity of Managing IT Complexity
"Clearly, this initiative of identifying and managing IT complexity is relatively new — and critical to any large organization," Nallappan said. "Managing IT complexity is in itself complex."
The answer to managing complexity is not just a technology answer — companies need to also consider processes and people.
"The trend we are seeing today is business owners, not necessarily IT, putting into place technologies that provide value to the business," he explained. "Therefore, IT must work across several business divisions, and that can be tricky."
That means an organization needs to align the IT investment and operations, ensure that everything is protected and secure — security must be an enabler, not a blocker.
From Nallappan's perspective, the key stakeholders across an organization's leadership team include the CIO, the line of business owner, the CTO, the CISO, the chief procurement officer, and, of course, the chief operations officer (COO) of IT.
"They typically delegate responsibility by their focus — with the CIO making the ultimate decision," he noted. "One critical focus area is integrations between the systems and the data, having a single source of truth for data."
Also critical to the process is to think beyond just technology: What new processes do you need? What new roles will you need within the organization?
How to Tame IT Complexity
In the report, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services identifies best practices to tame IT complexity, according to Nallappan. The first one listed is to develop a common language around IT complexity.
"That common language will help this cross-functional leadership team focus their time and effort in a more unified way," he said.
Nallappan said what he has found in working with customers is that key tools and processes are unique to that organization.
"What might be a key tool for one organization is not for another," he explained.
"As we brought them together, we experienced multiple silos of technology and huge inoperability even just within one portfolio," Nallappan said. "We made a focused effort to centralize software operations and modernize our technology stack for SaaS [software-as-a-service] operations."
"We combined a varied set of monitoring, alerting, and logging tools into one set of tools for all products in our portfolio," Nallappan said. "With that modernization effort, we replaced 50 global data centers in just six months."
He added that the most important outcome, beyond reducing overall IT complexity, was the company's ability to free up their engineering talent to focus on innovations and exceptional experiences, rather than software operations.
"While IT complexity causes issues, there is also a positive side to IT complexity," Nallappan said.
It often drives innovation and alleviates employee frustration, which why it is more important now than ever to start forming a plan to manage IT complexity, he said.
"The world is only going to get more complex," he said. "An organization that manages complexity has a higher chance of driving innovation, building exceptional experiences, and lowering overall cybersecurity risk."
About the authorNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.