Corralling complexity

It has been referred to as Moore's Flaw: The IT complexity that results from the inexorable innovation driven by Moore's Law.

"Complexity increases cost and decreases flexibility -- often in unforeseen ways -- and also tends to decrease stability," says Peter Leukert, CIO of Commerzbank, one of the largest banks in Germany. "If you run IT, those are three of your most important KPIs."

ANALYSIS: Getting a handle on chaos and complexity

But you can't manage what you can't measure, so Leukert set out to get a better handle on the problem. The result, a complexity model that generates a metric that can be used to gauge complexity and aid decision making (click here for a full transcript).

Initially focused on application complexity in the financial sector, the goal is to broaden the tool for usage in other industries, says Mat Small, partner with Capco, a consultancy in New York that has teamed with Commerzbank to help get other institutions involved in using the model. Ultimately the tool "will evolve into a myriad of models" that address the "entire IT footprint, even an IT supply chain," Small says.

In use, Leukert and Small anticipate companies tracking IT complexity quarterly (more frequently over time), and using the tool as a key decision-making aid.

Regarding the latter, Leukert says the model "helps you figure out where you can get the biggest bang for the buck. It can give you an indicator that says, 'Look, if you do it this way, it might be better in the short term, you might have a slightly faster time to market or a slightly lower administration cost, but beware, the long-term impact in terms of complexity is huge, and that will in the end translate into more long-term cost and reduced flexibility.'"

Commerzbank has already seen some eye-opening results, one, a counterintuitive indicator about the need for master data management tools.

Is the model one of those grand things that requires a mountain of input and constant care and feeding which virtually guarantees it ends up as shelfware? No, according to Small. "There are no more than two dozen inputs for each component," he says. "That's one of the things we've invested quite a bit of time on."

Leukert says the model "helps you make better-informed decisions, and it basically quantifies something that, in the past, all the architects have felt and talked about qualitatively."

The goal now is to get more companies involved. Let's hope some other financial institutions step up and the complexity model matures to the point where it is ready for a broader audience.

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

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