01 Mar Simplicity appeals to CIOs, but it's no easy task
Madison, Wis. — Information technology suffers from one bugbear above all: complexity. That was the view presented by a technology analyst on Wednesday night and explored by panelists and attendees of the Fusion2006 CEO-CIO Symposium.
“Simplicity in IT is something that will win,” said Frank Timons, an analysit with R.W. Baird & Co. He said the IT industry is plagued by “too many applications, too many vendors, too many business processes, too many things to deal with.”
Achieving simplicity is not in itself simple, though. Organizations face the challenges of meeting the diverse needs of diverse user bases while making the resulting technology easy to use. One panelist offered a firm view of what it will take.
“The only IT that should remain in your organization is that which supports your core competency,” said Tom Koulopoulos, founder and CEO of the Delphi Group. For him, that means pushing much of what IT departments do today out to specialist companies.
Before upgrading or adding a new layer to clients’ technology, Frank Albi’s company assesses what they already have. Sometimes it can be surprising.
Albi is president of Inacom Information Systems. Their practice of looking for existing, underused applications, as well as the increased popularity that Timons noted of virtual and web applications that don’t require installation, point to a problem that IT organizations have. Their resources, in many cases, are underutilized. Several computers might be sitting in different rooms running applications that one computer could run.
Hardware, though, is the least of many CIOs’ problems. Servers, laptops, desktops and other equipment have dropped dramatically in price. “Does it really matter if the thing’s being utilized 20 percent if it only cost $2,000?” said Rimas Buinevicius, CEO of Sonic Foundry.
“Hardware is cheap compared to people,” said Frank Ace, CIO of the Wisconsin Department of Justice. “It’s cheap compared to software.” Those too are resources that can be underused – if management asks for software capabilities and doesn’t get employees to use them, for example.
Another potentially untapped resource is the array of consumer technologies that is, in some cases, trumping business technologies in features and ease of use. An employee could very well have their own wireless network at home and wonder why their workplace doesn’t have one. But all that widely available technology is a double-edged sword.
“It does not make things simpler,” Ace said.
Because of the security threats posed by personal devices, especially today’s super-portable ones, enterprises have to go to additional work to make sure that they won’t expose the business to more risk, be it viruses carried in on personal laptops or intentional theft of data using IPods that can fit in a pocket and carry 80 gigabytes.
And that enterprise wireless network needs more attention to security than the ones employees have at home, making it much harder to implement.
Not willing to accept impossibility
“Harder to implement” is not being accepted as an excuse. Users are gaining strength, Koulopolous said, no longer needing to take whatever IT departments will give them. “I know it can be done, [so] I own the solution,” he said. People who are not satisfied by an IT solution realize it could be done better, and go elsewhere.
Timons related that he spoke with the CIO of a bank whose boss wanted all the bank’s records encrypted within 30 days. The CIO said it couldn’t be done. The result? He was fired on the spot.
Key to being able to achieve the impossible is adaptibility. In a discussion of higher education’s role in producing IT workers, Ed Meachen, CIO of the University of Wisconsin System, said companies looking to hire graduates who have been trained in particular IT skills or applications are looking in the wrong places. They need people who have the ability to learn new skills to meet business goals.
“You’re not just an IT person. You’re a business professional,” Timons said. “Get whatever training you want, but be flexible.”
Read Fusion2006 coverage:
• WTN: CEOs and CIOs must be ‘joined at the hip’
• WTN: CIOs could keep companies out of hot water in court