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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Overlapping, outdated systems cost money, hobble innovation and confuse users. 5 execs share strategies for simplifying your tech stack.

Simple on the surface, complex underneath
Complexity born of layered, outdated systems isn't good. But sometimes, systems that are far-reaching and sophisticated are complex by necessity, CIOs agree.

"Complexity is inevitable, because we live in a highly distributed world. But there's a difference between good complexity and bad complexity," says Bryson Koehler, CITO of The Weather Company in Atlanta. "We can handle complexity if it's logical. If you ask someone new to watch data flow through your environment, will it make sense to them? It can be complex, but if it's logical, that's okay."

Up front, a "single pane of glass"
Nathan Johnson, former CIO at a major ports operator, points to his team's efforts to shift from a phone-based model for displaying shipping schedules to a Web-based self-service model. "We've taken what used to be a single-layer system interface with a human-to-human contact, first to the Web space, and then to a mobile platform. That makes it simple for users to schedule an appointment or check status, and users now conduct millions of transactions per month that way.

"The complexity is that we now have three major layers of UI talking to multiple systems across a global network. The user just looks at the mobile device, puts in a simple password, and checks the status. We've integrated various global systems into a single pane of glass," he says.

Sharing a matrix of services across divisions
Atish Banerjea, CIO of NBCUniversal, also contends with a fair amount of rational complexity. He has to -- the $28 billion company has highly divergent divisions in film, resorts, broadcasting and cable, all with their own agendas and challenges. "For a centralized technology organization like ours to effectively service so many businesses with so many needs creates a high level of complexity. We have to reconcile and provide services that scale to the company as a whole, but also to each unit, in such a way that each unit feels that the service is tailored to their needs."

To manage inherent complexity and provide scalability, Banerjea created a matrix of services. Across the horizontal access are core capabilities shared across NBCUniversal, including IT architecture, networking, digital product development, research and analytics, and others. Vertically, within the divisions, the divisional CIOs are in charge of systems specific to their divisions.

"But if one CIO needs to build a new network, he taps into the enterprise networking team," says Banerjea. "What can be shared and scaled is common, without our creating silos. But on the other hand, each business unit doesn't have to worry about the other business units' systems. We've simplified the portfolio while still allowing the divisions to deploy systems to grow revenues or increase profitability."


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