by David Rosenbaum

IT Complexity Is Costly if You Don’t Take Steps Now

Nov 28, 20073 mins
Data CenterEnterprise ArchitectureIT Leadership

Don't wait for your legacy systems to spring a leak.

I never gave much thought to my bathroom until water started dripping out of the recessed lights in the kitchen below it. Naturally, I called a plumber. He told me that my legacy system was no longer sufficiently robust to support washing and waste disposal activities. And due to the inflexible nature of the bathroom’s infrastructure, it would need a soup-to-nuts upgrade to version 2.0. That would entail a total curtailment of functional processes for the duration of the project (estimated to be six weeks) and a major financial investment of scarce resources.

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(What he actually said was close to incomprehensible, as his English was rudimentary at best, but the gravity of the situation and the comprehensiveness of his analysis became crystal clear when he presented his estimate for the job.)

After the room was reduced to rubble, after the ceiling, walls, floor and fixtures disappeared, the infrastructure was revealed in all its dysfunctional glory.

Complicated? I had no idea. Pipes twisted up, down and all around, taking odd turns to avoid old studs and ancient beams, rusting ducts and clogged vents. Iron pipe gave way to copper, which in turn gave way to PVC (from an upgrade made prior to my acquisition of the premises). Wires snaked and coiled everywhere.

One should never have to see the guts of one’s domicile exposed like that.

Similarly, a business doesn’t want to know about the infrastructure or IT architecture that supports its business processes. All it wants is hot and cold running apps when it turns on the IT faucets. It wants the new geegaws that enable it to do business faster, more easily and above all, more profitably.

The problem is, each new gadget, each new application, each new product, process or function adds complexity that stresses the legacy system and strains the CIO’s carefully constructed architecture—and his scarce resources—until…you spring a leak and have to shut down.

I assure you from bitter (and grungy) experience, you don’t want to go there.

I might have avoided my bathroom disaster had I taken steps before the leaks began. You can avoid some of the costs of IT complexity if you start now, making process central to your technology strategy, communicating with the business in an open and predictable manner, keeping an eye on signs that your legacy systems are holding you back, not pushing you forward. Nothing about this is simple, but our story “Strategies for Dealing With IT Complexity” suggests ways to begin.

Editor David Rosenbaum can be reached at