One of the ways in which IT complexity in businesses has grown is through consumer technology.
Because brands such as eBay or Amazon have done a good job of hiding automated warehousing, real-time transaction processing and supply chain management behind slick interfaces, office workers are asking why corporate IT systems are so clunky.
“People take work home because consumer technology is better than business technology,” says David Tansley, a partner in the technology, media and telecommunications practice at Deloitte. “We are starting to see organisations let people choose their own devices, as technology is at such a low price point. We are seeing personal computer allowances, rather like a car allowances.”
But, as Mr Tansley cautions, this leaves companies facing issues over security, identity and access management, and keeping data safe; it moves, rather than eliminates, complexity.
When businesses go beyond giving users control over the device they use, and start to allow work groups or departments to buy back office technology, a further set of problems can emerge.
It is now every easy, with cloud computing and software as a service, to introduce new systems more quickly than central IT might allow. The risk is that companies create more layers of complexity.
At the other extreme, it is possible for operational units to over-simplify systems. In order to cut costs or to buy an off-the-shelf hosted application, they might miss out important features which they might not use, but which are vital to the health of the business. Areas such as advanced reporting, or compliance and security, are some that are commonly overlooked.
And some IT departments have even been known to shut down applications, or turn off servers, and wait to see if anyone complains. There are, though, more sophisticated approaches.
Dell, for example, has cut its portfolio of applications from 10,000 to 2,800, and expects to cut further still. “We went through every one of our apps and classified it as ‘creating no value’, so it was cut, ‘creates value but duplicates’, so it was consolidated, or ‘creating value, it’s great’, so let’s globalise it,” says Robin Johnson, CIO at the computer maker. “You can’t do that without the support of the business.”
Dell was by no means bad at running IT, he suggests, but as with any large organisation business processes had changed and applications had run their useful life.