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Fusion 2007: CA chief says IT complexity raises risk

Madison, Wis. - The technological march has added so much complexity to information technology systems that it threatens to undermine its promised benefits.

That according to John Swainson, president and CEO of CA, Inc., who delivered the opening keynote address at the 2007 Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium. The annual conference is designed to help bridge the relationship between business and information technology.

That relationship will be tested as businesses absorb new technology at a faster and faster pace, a development that can result in additional layers of both complexity and vulnerability, Swainson said.

In this context, transforming information technology means getting complexity under control with a simpler - not simple - architecture. That's not an easy task in an era in which technological advances are transforming business models and business relationships, but Swainson said the risk must be aggressively managed.

“The risk is that if we don't find ways to harness the power of the technology, we'll add all this capability and it will actually degrade the performance of the system,” Swainson said. “I think the key word here is system. What we are talking about is systems that are designed to deliver business function and business value, and it's not the elements that make the system, it's the whole thing together.”
Swainson leads a technology business that is transforming itself into more of a relationship-based organization, but in the process CA has had to address IT complexity issues of its own. When Swainson became chief executive, CA had 680 legacy applications on every imaginable platform, and the IT organization actually was involved in product development.

Now, these technologists are more focused on managing the complexity of technology. Technology should be transparent to the end user and to the customer, but the people who have to make it transparent are the IT professionals, Swainson said.

The best ways to make it transparent, and ensure that complexity doesn't destabilize the business, is to reduce the scope of implementations and understand that design and architecture matter across of range of functions, including security.

“We've created systems that are unnaturally complex,” Swainson said, “and each layer added tends to give the wrong people access. We need to design networks so they are inherently simpler.”

Wrestling with complexity

Technology officers who took in the keynote address agreed that the layering of technology, sometimes for technology's sake, is an issue they wrestle with.

Byrne Chapman, vice president of the IS Division of American Family Insurance, said his challenge is to simplify American Family's environment while simultaneously allowing broader access and improving security.

“I think it's very difficult right now to simplify our network and meet business needs,” he said. “I think the challenge is that the technology has grown more complex and the tools to help manage that complexity have not grown with the same capability and at the same speed, and so we struggle today with delivering business value without also increasing our infrastructure costs.”

Teri Bruns, vice president of Inacom Information Systems, characterized meeting the challenge as seemingly impossible, but necessary. Bruns said there are technological tools to assist with complexity, but the discipline around business processes should precede investments in any kind of tool.

“When he [Swainson] said design matters, I thought that was a very interesting point because we get very wrapped around deadlines and time frames and bringing things in on time,” she said, “and with not a lot of discipline sometimes in stepping back and understanding the underlying architecture and how to enable change going forward.”

Editor's note: This is part of a set of articles covering the Fusion 2007 CEO-CIO Symposium. Links to more articles will be posted as they are published - including more on workforce, one of the most pressing concerns facing the executives at Fusion 2007.

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