Ironically, as Accenture CIO Modruson notes, "Complex things tend to be easier to design and deploy." Many enterprises justify Rube Goldberg-type systems by saying they need them now and promising themselves that they'll clean up the technology later. But "later never happens," Modruson says dolefully. Strong central governance can prevent that "let the future worry about it" mentality. "Organisations that have effective IT governance by and large have lower levels of IT complexity," notes Gartner's McDonald.
That's why CIOs and their business partners must have strong governance "about what really impacts our customer, with business a key part of that decision structure," says Michael Vincent, CIO of global financial services provider ING.
Having that fundamental business understanding-and a common view of it in both business and technology leaderships-provides the CIO with the ability to make decisions that prevent unnecessary complexity and also enables him to more accurately assess the costs and benefits of any desired technology. It enables him, Vincent says, to figure in the impact of complexity not just on deployment but also on maintenance and integration, which consumes about 70% of IT's budget.
It also allows him to gauge how a technology will affect future changes to both the business and the IT infrastructure. "This customer focus helps show which requests are too complex for the value provided," says Vincent.
Of course, CIOs are always under pressure to respond quickly to business's urgent priorities, and an IT leader will inevitably need to make some complexity trade-offs for truly critical demands. But you can't let that pressure subvert the principles of good governance.
"If we find ourselves living in a 'get it done' mode for extended periods, the red flag goes up," says Wal-Mart's Ford. By having a seat at the executive committee table, Ford can make sure the red flag is not ignored.