After years of assisting customers in building increasingly more complex, real-time IT environments, Gartner has targeted "conquering complexity" as the theme for Symposium/ITxpo 2005 in San Francisco. Peter Sondergaard, Gartner head of global research, attributed complexity to the constant search for a silver bullet to solve all problems, the implementation of point solutions and short term thinking--no architectural approach.
Executives tend to push complexity into IT departments, asking for solutions that aren't easily delivered. No big revelation. Most IT shops end up with pockets of complexity trying to keep up with the demands of employees, partners and customers. Just look at the nest of wires in a server room or the number of disparate components required to deliver a piece of information to an end user in the field.
Armed with the new theme, Gartner's 700 analysts can now deliver its advice in a neat complexity wrapper. It’s Gartner’s new “service-oriented” architecture—look at IT through the lens of managing complexity. (Here’s a transcript of the keynote presentation.) The research firm even came up with a value of complexity metric, which posits that you can get value from systems by adding more complexity, but only up to a certain point (somewhere around the top of a Bell curve), beyond which you get negative returns. No surprise there...
"The curve is not a simple bell curve, and there is no absolute level at which the value of complexity tops out," said Gartner analyst Ray Paquet. "It’s really a matter of considering each potential change, in respect to the relationship between complexity and value -- obviously, avoid changes with negative value of complexity."
Colleen Young, the other Gartner keynote complexity presenter, chimed in: "We have to develop the discipline to consider whether a change will have a net positive or net negative effect relative to what we’re trying to accomplish, and we have to examine it over its entire lifecycle. This means evaluating every proposed complication or added element to determine whether it has a positive return on complexity...if not, reject it."
Of couse, complexity has many dimensions. A complex operating system can simplify life for users, but not for developers. The challenge is in hiding complexity from users. Too often it comes back to bite you. Young advised: "Perhaps a better way to consider this is to think in terms of adjusting the organization to manage the complexity you have to deal with -- the point being that the response to complexity is as likely to lie in organizational and human change as it is in the application of technology."