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How to reduce IT complexity and increase agility

Howard Baldwin | Aug. 6, 2015
Overlapping, outdated systems cost money, hobble innovation and confuse users. 5 execs share strategies for simplifying your tech stack.

(Of course, not all complexity is bad. Some sophisticated, enterprise-wide systems are necessarily complex by nature, as CIOs discuss in Simple on the surface, complex underneath).

From 13 data centers to one (in the cloud)
The Weather Company's Koehler traces complexity's origins to illogical architectures -- multiple systems performing similar functions, too many layers of a stack serving extraneous purposes.

Koehler spent the last three years trying to get rid of "a highly complex and illogical environment" -- the product of multiple mergers and acquisitions -- "that made operations costly, risky and difficult to change."

The Weather Company had 13 interdependent data centers (11 in the U.S., one in Asia, and one in Europe). "If one application needed data in another data center to work, we weren't lowering risk. We were increasing it by spreading out our dependencies," Koehler explains. "There were also four forecasting systems, each one producing a different result." His team whittled that down to one forecasting system, a common API platform for sending data out to partners, and a consolidated cloud-based approach for infrastructure.

"Moving our forecasting system to Amazon's infrastructure several years ago saved us seven figures over the lifespan of the technology investment that we would have had to make," says Koehler. Even better, it made his group more agile. "We inverted the ratio of time spent on maintenance from 80% to 30%. You have to get yourself in shape before you can innovate."

That agility brought other value, he notes. His company's widget became the default source for weather on all Apple devices running iOS 8. "If we'd tried to do it in the old model of bespoke systems and custom solutions, I doubt Apple would have had the confidence in us if we couldn't work with the same speed and agility that they do."

Consolidating Web hosting and ad sales
Like Koehler, Atish Banerjea, CIO of NBCUniversal, encountered a high level of complexity that developed, he says, under the previous ownership when divisions deployed a lot of shadow IT.

When Banerjea arrived at NBCUniversal in December 2012, his team partnered with ad sales to consolidate 19 different advertising selling applications into one. The result is a much higher level of efficiency. "We've built tools so we can see inventory across units. We have a much more accurate inventory of what we can sell. We can do forecasting faster, and it's helped us improve pricing."

Similarly, each division had its own Web hosting provider. NBCUniversal's technology team led an effort to consolidate all of the 200 Web properties onto one platform. "Across all of our consolidation initiatives, we have saved tens of millions of dollars," Banerjea says.


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