Editor’s note: Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of technologies to business challenges. Sanity Check is a regular weekly feature in Local Tech Wire.
_______________________________________________________________________________________Driving complexity out of IT operations was a major theme of last months Gartner Inc.’s Symposium/ITxpo in San Francisco. Attendees sat-in on a session entitled “End of the IT Department” presented by Gartner Group Vice President Neil MacDonald that suggested within 10 years IT services will be automated and simplified to such a degree that end users will be able to do a lot of their technical support and system configuration.

Few attendees (critics) believed they could use technology or management skills to make significant headway against the persistent problem of increasing complexity in IT technology and operations; especially to the degree outlined in the presentation.

With the introduction of wireless communications, virtual networks and virtual servers, IT operations are as complex as ever.

Complexity is increasing with each new wave of automation, even as organizations look for ways to downsize and outsource their IT departments.

“I found that particular session to be out of sync with what is really possible,” commented one attendee.

The presenter may have been talking about an ‘IT utopia’. What was described as an achievable goal in 10 years is a 30- or 50-year problem, and there is still the question of what will crop up in the meantime that brings new complexity into IT management”, he said.

IT as Strategic, Not Tactical

My take on this ‘IT Utopia’ is there are more important and perhaps achievable goals for IT, today. IT managers and CIO’s need to do a better job of convincing the business that IT is strategic and can be used for strategic purposes as opposed to lower priority tactical issues, like standard business process reengineering.

Currently IT resources are too often used to develop business process applications that are not mission-critical or strategic and for ‘reactive’ fire-fighting when there are problems with the infrastructure.

One key would be to persuade managers to use commercial software “out of the box” for all the essential business applications. Organizations also need to be willing to change business processes to make them compatible with out-of-the-box software, rather than hanging onto existing processes that are administrative and/or bureaucratic in nature that don’t contribute to competitive advantage. Another key would be for IT and business management to move from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ decision making.

Too often organizations only change for one of two reasons; they feel the heat or they see the light. Waiting until systems grind to a halt or business growth demands infrastructure changes is the normal ‘reactive’ IT management process.

Adopting a strategy of ‘continuous evaluation’ of new solution sets and niche tools for the ‘best of breed’ (for reducing complexity and cost) along with the willingness to aggressively and immediately replace ‘defunct’ products will speed the road to ‘proactive’ management.

Fire Fighting or Fire Supression?

I am currently working with an organization that is drowning in the bureaucracy of their ‘business processes’ while their infrastructure is eroding before their eyes, daily. The new solution has been proposed. Everyone agrees this is the best possible solution for the price, functionality and for reducing complexity; yet they don’t execute on making the infrastructure change.

Why? The ‘business decision’ supports the solution and the ‘IT decision’ supports the solution; however the organization of people cannot stop ‘reactive fire-fighting’ long enough to implement a ‘fire suppression system’.

Crazy, huh?

It is sad to say, but most likely the business will ‘burn to the ground’ before the organizational leaders finally decide to bring in the ‘professional fire-fighters’ and let them do what they do best.Organizations have to find ways to reduce IT complexity today if they are going to remain competitive in a global economy, or even remain in business. As technology becomes increasingly more complex, business also need to rely on the experts who’ve manufactured and implemented the ‘new solutions’ more and less on their own bureaucracy or way of doing things. Reducing complexity is a goal management should not lose sight of as the business demands more and expects more.

Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of technologies to business challenges. She can be reached via email at terri@nthet.net