December. 10, 2018 posted by Foehn

Five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci recognised that “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Some four years ago, the big IT management consultancies came to the same conclusion. It was then that IDC, the IT market analysts, caused a stir by identifying an explosion of IT complexity and an urgent need to address the adverse impact on business productivity.

Their published research went on to propose an ‘IT Complexity Index’ from which it was calculated that, for a sample of multinational businesses, the savings from a program of IT simplification amounted to more than $3,500pa per employee. Immediately, all the big consultancies started preaching the IT simplification gospel whilst the big vendors, from IBM to SAP, started pushing out solutions.

At Foehn, it was one of those ‘that-was-my-idea’ moments. Since 2002, James Passingham, our CTO, had built Foehn’s systems and our reputation on the quest for communications that are simple to use and easy to manage.

In the early days, the demand for simplicity was spurred-on by complex, hardware-driven communications that were strangling business productivity and incurring unsustainable levels of training, support and maintenance, not to mention costs. Over time, the coming together of reliable SIP, converged networks, cloud hosting and some talented opensource software developers, meant we could fulfil our mission to design systems that are simple on the surface and keep the complexity hidden underneath.

Over more recent years since IDC waved the red flag, however, our focus has moved from clunky hardware to a more insidious source of complexity. This arises from legacy systems and the overlapping layers of technology that are created by adding but not replacing systems.

It’s a problem that followed in the wake of the global recession and a frenzy of IT investment from businesses eager to regain profitability and competitive advantage. For many, the public cloud promised simple access to just about any solution required to get business back on course and new applications were stacked up on old infrastructure. The resulting tangle of new, modified, integrated and redundant systems has since cost the time, money and resources of stretched IT budgets. Most of all, though, it has brought complexity into the user experience.

There are numerous examples but perhaps the worst and the most recent concerns collaboration software. A quick search on the Internet identifies some two hundred collaboration software vendors but, when taking into account that each offers a suite of systems, the number of individual tools is likely to exceed one thousand. In the past, many of these have been deployed in a multi-vendor mix of stand-alone, point solutions, creating problems for interoperability and making life difficult for the user.

Complexity is inevitable in IT, particularly in business communications where distributed services across multiple media and devices demand sophisticated systems that are complex by necessity. The challenge here is for systems architects and software developers to use their skills to manage complexity and hide it below a well-designed user interface. This is ‘good complexity’ that contributes to the user experience positively and invisibility. ‘Bad complexity’ can come from simply bad design, ignoring the true needs of the end user, neglecting the business requirements and how they might change over time.

Typical of these business changes are mergers, acquisitions, centralisation and implementation of new standards. User expectations play a role as well. With the consumerisation of IT, business users expect a consumer-like experience gained from social networking tools, modern web sites and mobile applications. Oblivious to the underlying complexity, users expect simplicity.

Complexity kills collaboration and impacts the ability to share ideas across teams. Faced with a complex, confusing workplace, business teams tend to retreat into silos and just focus on trying to get their specific jobs done. According to a Harvard Business Review survey of complexity in business, 86% of all respondents reported that their business processes and decision-making had become so complex that it was hindering their ability to grow.

Businesses are now recognising the dangers of complexity and vendors are responding with measures to mitigate the risks. Converged infrastructure, for example, offers pre-integrated servers, storage and networking in a bundle, pre-configured to work with a fully validated software stack. By taking the complexity out of deployment, this offers a big advantage to the growing number of businesses lacking the new IT skills required in cloud and virtualisation environments.

At Foehn, it’s just business as usual. Simplification has always provided the strategic foundations for everything we develop. Our clients have always recognised the value of software so slick that it motivates you, admin so simple that your employees can do it, and an interface so intuitive it makes you smile. Alan Perlis, the great computer scientist, summed it up: ‘Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.’ For us, removing complexity comes naturally.