It’s Time for Spring Cleaning in the IT Closet

CIOs: Here’s how to reduce the clutter in your IT operation and ensure that simplicity becomes part of your corporate culture.

Successful CIOs seek to hide complexity by creating easy-to-use systems and interfaces. There's a lot to hide. Acquisitions and mergers bring additional systems and processes. New technologies must mesh with existing ones. Business partnerships must be embraced. New products and services must be supported.

Not all complexity is bad, though. For example, companies are moving away from relatively simple, contractual relationships with external business partners and toward more complex relationships that are full of collaboration, knowledge-sharing and innovation, said Arun Rai, a professor at Georgia State University, at a recent meeting of the Society for Information Management's Advanced Practices Council.

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But beyond a certain point, more complexity reduces profits, even when revenues increase, says Michael Wade, a professor at IMD business school in Switzerland.

Sometimes the CIO is the source of the complexity. Wade illustrated with an example: Jim Barrington, CIO at Novartis, took on a problem that seemed unsolvable. In many African countries, huge supply-chain problems made it impossible to get malaria medicines to patients in time. The overall supply of medicine was sufficient, but local facilities often ran out. Wade asked council members to brainstorm solutions. The room was full of high-achieving CIOs, so the results were novel, clever--and complex. Solutions involved local stores, schools and delivery trucks.

Wade then described Barrington's actual--and exquisitely simple--solution: Provide each local public-health facility with a smartphone loaded with a basic app. In response to a text message every Thursday, a worker enters the stock level of the antimalarial drug. On Monday, the system sends information about stock levels to the district manager, who can then order or redistribute medicine among sites accordingly. Within six months, drug shortages were reduced dramatically in three districts.

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