the misplaced blame of a complexaholic

This article may make you angry, or it may make you agree with it. I’m a bit of both, but I don’t particularly like the presentation. How’d I see this? My CIO passed this out today to people in her department. Michael H. Hugos (MHH) talks about IT complexity in The Recovering Complexaholic, from the Opinion section of ComputerWorld (Nov. 5, 2007). Let’s check it out a bit.

There’s a standing joke that business people never have to ask IT how long something will take and what it will cost because they already know the answers: It always takes a year and costs $1 million — and that’s just for the simple stuff.

When I first read this, I actually went the opposite direction. “Business people never have to ask IT how long something will take and what it will cost because they’ve already made up their minds that it will be immediate and cost nothing.” Oops, he went the other way with that joke!

MHH then goes into how “consumer IT” is better than corporate IT, which I think he is confusing as the overall SaaS movement. I’m not sure I would consider that “consumer IT.” Does “consumer IT” know anything about managing 50+ systems, softwares, policies, accounts, or pieces of data? Not usually. Just because you can access it from your browser at home on your own computer does not mean the solutio is “consumer IT.”

He also opines about how IT makes things so complex, that nothing gets done and when it does, costs a lot of money. I think business as a whole is as guilty of this as IT. Business can often not make decisions and leaves such things to IT to sort out. IT then has to cover all the bases and make processes so robust that they become complex monsters, just to CYA in case something doesn’t meet some unspoken requirement. Business can condition IT to overanalyze and overcomplexitize solutions just as much as an IT person can get caught it in themself. This is basic psychology 101 conditioning.

I truly think complex IT can be just as successful as cowboy IT (come on, that’s what MHH kinda sounds like he wants…get things done, think about it later), but it all depends on the personality of management and aligning IT to that personality. If the org is a large slow-moving organization that expects this project only to be done once, you might need to make it complex and large. If the company is small, fast-moving, and likely to revamp the whole architecture in 3 years when it makes a big break and growth spurt, then keep it simple.

I really buy into the idea that we just need to Get Shit Done. I also buy into the desire (not need, mind you!) to keep things from becoming complex. IT people really do hate complexity as much as anyone. It makes problems difficult to diagnose, compounds itself over time (try to build a complimentary system to an already complex system…it becomes complex itself), and typically promotes instability and insecurity. Besides, we want to accomlish things as well, not just let something stupid drag on for 12 months.

Yes, IT can perpetuate the problem, but I think the problem is not something you can lay on IT alone, but rather everyone involved. I think this is called ‘alignment,’ but I could be stepping outside my pay grade there.

MHH asks a few rhetoricals: “What is our objection to this stuff? That it’s not scalable in the enterprise? That it’s not robust? Or that it doesn’t feed our addiction to complexity?” These questions depend on what management wants, and trust me, if IT has been bitten by mgmt in the past, they WILL know how to approach these answers. When I propose “consumer IT” as a solution to problem A, will management later get frustrated that it can’t be tailored to what our processes are (instead we have to use the product the same as everyone else)? That’s a valid concern, especially when IT knows Mgmt can’t stay within the lines of the solution…