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Rubik’s Cube

When Computer Associates’ Chairman, Sanjay Kumar warns that there is too much complexity in the IT industry, I have to agree.

Much of my time is spent writing special reports and case studies and trying to make the information they contain both relevant and interesting to a business audience. This can be much harder than writing a more spontaneous ‘Thought for the Day’. This is because, attempting to describe how one system connects, replaces or adds value to a second, without burying the explanation under a mountain of acronyms is a constant challenge.

Kumar, believing that integration remains a problem for the industry, is calling for technology companies to reduce complexity and help make IT infrastructures "more simple and more transparent". Flexibility is perceived as the key differentiator between solutions, because the future will always remain unpredictable and given the speed of consolidation, which is reducing IT to a handful of global players, no sensible business wishes to be locked-in to a technology relationship with a company that might not exist in five years.

Of course, IBM and Microsoft will probably tell you that part if not all of the answer to the integration challenge lies in Web Services. However, the Butler Group has pointed-out that “It will be another ten years for Web services to become as convenient as using other services and twenty years before enterprises fully integrate their collaborative processes”. So let’s say 2010 before Web Services become credible and 2006 before we start to see them giving us really tight process integration, a kind of World Wide Wait of a different kind.

The trouble is, that Kumar can identify the problem and offer flexibility and transparency as a solution but the very nature of competition encourages companies to reject open standards in favour of partially or fully proprietary solutions. In the days of the industrial revolution, railroad tracks were one example and in the 20th century we had Windows and accountancy software. Tomorrow, of course, we are talking about a world of interconnected and open Web Services but hold on a moment, last year, I wrote a report on Web Services, called ‘Knitting with Style’. In it, I said: “While the industry can’t evolve without agreement over the middleware detail, there’s no real evidence that by simply exposing one’s data and business process to a Web Services architecture, it will result in the magical appearance of much bigger business applications, such as financial services portals, without the assistance of very specialized and arguably, very expensive applications integration software”.

So in theory, the world is opening up but in practise, we are on the receiving end of more acronyms and both the flexibility and integration we are chasing is not quite what it seems and ‘open’ in conjunction with large IT projects becomes a distinctly relative term.

There is an expression made famous by Oscar Wilde, “True refinement seeks simplicity” and while IT thrives on complexity, customers suffer from it. There is an argument, which says that in technology, complexity is a function of time, and for many businesses it’s not something that they notice until the spaghetti-like detail of their IT infrastructure becomes a burden.

My advice, for what it’s worth, from looking at a number of success stories in larger companies, is to outsource as much of that infrastructure burden as you can, ‘Think thin’ be a demanding client and as one Vice President of a financial institution told me recently, “focus on your applications and not your environment”.


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