But this approach has three flaws, says Daryl Plummer, chief of research for emerging trends and process management at Gartner. One is that enterprises rarely invest when times are tight. Two is that it requires a large shift in skills and priorities that's hard for people to handle. Three is that waiting lets the problem fester, leading to workarounds by impatient users that will contribute to complexity down the road.
"Occasionally, the window for big-project change does exist-maybe 5% of the time," says Mathaisel. "Take advantage of it when you can. But 95% of the time you're really talking about incremental change. You do what you can today and deal with the rest on a later cycle."
There's also bigger risk for large-scale retrofits embarked on during down times, warns Wal-Mart's Ford. It's precisely during the tough times that the business comes to IT for help. So counting on simplifying your technology environment then is probably not realistic.
The best approach is to make the work of simplification ongoing, says Dow's Murrell. "Look in every area to see what's redundant," he recommends. That doesn't necessarily mean doing anything to simplify the technology cans you've opened.
"You may make a decision to leave the worms in there due to the cost or the delay to value," Murrell says. But you should document what could have been simplified and why you didn't make the effort, so the next time that particular can is opened it'll be easier to determine if that's the right time to get rid of the worms.
Ultimately, says TD Banknorth's Petrey, you need to reduce complexity in the legacy technology you're not retiring. "If you don't," he says ominously, "the consequences to your business will come at a point not of your choosing.
"It's not a sexy thing to do," he continues, "and the business doesn't see the value in it, but if you let it go, you'll end up with complexity and fragility." Not a good combination.
Staging simplification efforts over time is a critical strategy for success, argues ING's Vincent: "Take bite-sized, digestible chunks; otherwise, you'll choke. Replace a brick at a time, not a whole building."
The highest complexity factor: Your job
It may seem as if the complexity burden has become too great to bear. But CIOs have been there before, says Accenture's Modruson, and not only have they survived, they've thrived: "In the 1980s, everyone stitched together networks from multiple technologies. Things have gotten better as technology complexities have collapsed."