Can you afford simplicity?

Among the trends that seems to resonate with IT leaders is the need to simplify, consolidate and generally reduce the overall complexity required to run enterprise IT.

It is something the major IT providers want CIOs to buy into. They’ll say that it is far easier to standardise on a vertically integrated technology stack, which they will happily sell you. It is no different to how a mainframe used to be positioned. For many, the mainframe is considered legacy; the main reason why it is still being used is that businesses and government users have tied their operations intricately to the enterprise IT running on these systems. The single, highly integrated IT system becomes business critical and becomes a cash cow for the IT provider.

No one, knowingly, would go into a contract, with the intent of being locked-in. But this is exactly what is happening every day when CIOs accept the spiel from the major IT providers pitching a highly integrated enterprise IT stack that they will claim has a lower total cost of ownership and is simpler to run and manage than the alternative.

The alternative is complexity, a raft of different applications from a multitude of software companies and all the supplier management headaches and IT integration challenges such an approach entails.

The complexity versus simplicity, but with lock-in debate, has no clear answer. Damian Smith, chief technology officer at Podium Analytics, a non government organisation and charity founded by former McLaren Group chief, Ron Dennis, believes data is key. It should be possible, he says, to swap in and out applications so long as the business has access to the data. The beauty of software as a service (SaaS) is that it offers IT leaders this kind of flexibility. They can sign up for, say a CRM, run that for a few years, then, walk away.,. No string attached; no, lock-ins. While it may have a cost, the data can be extracted, translated and loaded into the new provider’s cloud.

Where it becomes more challenging is that the SaaS providers know how easy it is to switch and they will try to find innovative ways to lock you in. SaaS providers are increasingly embedding more and more business logic into their applications. This becomes important when customers begin using some of the value-added features that make one provider’s SaaS better than another’s.

Smith ‘s approach of focusing on the data is a good starting point when preparing a request for proposals (RFP) for new enterprise software. But above all, right at the start of the tender process, CIOs need to assess the compromises in terms of flexibility versus ease of deployment and the lock-in impact.

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