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The simple life: Reducing IT complexity for business growth

  • Many businesses find themselves burdened by overly complex IT systems, replete with alterations and fixes.
  • Simplifying legacy tech not only saves money, it allows organisations to remain competitive, with the agility to respond to changing value streams.
  • Simplification is not an end goal but an ongoing process, and it isn’t always easy, but it is achievable.

It is not uncommon for the complexity of business’ technology to build up over time. Often unintentional, it occurs as a result of decisions around project prioritisation, governance or budget compromise. Systems that were once technologically simple — or at least, fit-for-purpose — become clogged with modifications, add-ons and workarounds. Changing one piece of technology invariably leads to unforeseen repercussions in others.

While the IT department might be aware of the complexity and what it could lead to, often the business is not, that is, until they discover a severe outage or the prohibitive cost and duration of changing to meet business needs. At worst, it can affect customers, and lead to bad publicity, but even when relatively minor, it can dramatically affect productivity. At its heart, the problem is one of cost, in the operation of, and ability to change, an overly complex system.

Instead of playing catch-up, organisations need to prioritise simplifying their technology, processes and people. Only by doing so will they be able to become a truly customer centric business that leverages technology and innovation trends to deliver the ongoing change that has become ubiquitous in today’s business world.  

The benefits of being simple

IT simplification is more than just an exercise in risk management. Not only will it enable opportunities to reduce IT operating costs, it will deliver efficiency and productivity gains across the board. In some cases, these can be significant — both in technological cost (eg. running expensive mainframe solutions) and productivity loss (eg. reallocation of staff to support better-value services). 

Even more than money, in a landscape of escalating change, a company’s IT backbone must support faster and more varied ways of working to allow for greater output of value. This can include anything from implementing seamless customer journeys to innovative and profitable product development. And these projects must happen in months, rather than years. The opportunity window for differentiating from the competition is both closer and smaller than it once was — being agile is critical. 

For the end user, simplification of technology will deliver a streamlined experience — something that companies cannot afford to ignore when customers will pay a premium for a good experience, and are prepared to leave if they have a bad one. 

When simple is complex

While the benefits of simplification are fairly clear, the ‘how’ it should be delivered is muddier, as is the ‘what’ that is required to extract value from it. Even CIOs and tech leaders who are aware of the problem are not necessarily sure of how to address it while meeting other business agendas such as agility and modernisation. The simplification agenda is becoming increasingly prominent, but its multifaceted nature can be hard to breakdown into digestible components. 

Transforming legacy architecture requires time and investment (and sometimes, specialised knowledge). Moreover, often the people who built the systems that are now causing issues are also reticent to change them, not to mention that they are the most likely to understand the level of effort involved in doing so. Without support, the burden of a significant change while maintaining the status quo will potentially cause fear and inertia — as it does with any transformation project.

Similar to how complexity is hard to see until something goes wrong, simplicity can often be difficult to contextualise until it manifests. Time is needed to course-correct overly complex systems, especially given the many unknown variables. When the results are not immediately obvious, a visionary leader will be needed to keep the process moving. Of course, the challenge will be magnified when technological complexity exists in an organisation that is equally ‘intricate’ in its processes and culture.

Successful technology simplification

A holistic view of complexity — and an understanding of how it creates unwanted business outcomes — is needed to scale and implement successful IT simplification. To develop this, a view of the end-to-end customer journey and how it relates to the technology stack must be considered. Only then can targeted remediation activities be implemented to address the highest areas of benefit and risk and realise ensure overall organisational value. Four broad principles will help: 

  1. Invest in capability — The effort to simplify cannot be ‘one and done’. If not addressed at the skills level, complexity will return just as quickly as it is removed. Simplification needs to be implemented as a capability to tackle complexity proactively.
  2. Create a simplification movement — This will help bring stakeholders on the journey, ensuring that they feel invested in the outcomes. Celebrate successes whether big or small. Develop narratives and gamify  where possible to increase investment.
  3. Drive from the top — Executive leadership and senior stakeholder buy-in is required to complete a meaningful simplification, create awareness and reduce obstacles to execution.
  4. Have a vision and stick to it — A clear picture of what the future should look like can be a strong motivator. This can be in the shape of a well-thought out ‘masterplan’ with realistic transitional phases. It is just as important to stick to the plan over time to see results.

The long and fruitful road

Simplification is not a destination. 

To ensure success, it must be thought of as a journey, and one that will have its ups and downs. But with a clear vision, unwavering commitment and focus on delivering positive outcomes, it can be achieved for the benefit of the IT team, the customer and the business.