Keep IT Simple, Stupid

Keep IT Simple

After working in the IT industry for many years, one thing I’ve found is how confused non-IT professionals become with overuse of industry terminology, jargon and the infamous three letter acronym. For the majority of the time this is just IT professionals talking amongst themselves in the established lingua franca. This, however, becomes problematic when the conversation extends outside the IT team, and especially when the conversation extends to the business.

We tend to talk in terms of MIPS and FLOPS, Megabits, Gigahertz, Terabytes, SAN’s, WAN’s and NAS’s to name just a few. We have, to a certain extent, forgotten how to talk to non-IT people, and to have a relevant conversation with the business. We’re not alone in this regard. Most professions I can think of develop their own lingua franca to converse with others in their field using specific terminology, idioms and styles to convey meaning to others in their sphere whilst, intentionally or otherwise, excluding those of us who are not members of that profession.

Another thing I’ve learned, having worked in many different IT roles for vendors and businesses is that ultimately what excites us as IT professionals doesn’t really matter to the business. How many FLOPS a computer can do, or how many IOPS a storage array is capable of is all well and good for an IT professional to get excited about, but ultimately this is not the language of business.

Whilst these are very important metrics for systems to run databases or applications, ultimately the language the business wants to hear is that the application running their business will not be a bottleneck, and they can get on with running and growing the business to increase profitability. We have as an industry so overcomplicated the language of IT that a gulf has emerged between the business and the IT that drives it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Information Technology is quite that simple, or what we do is easy. Many of the systems that businesses rely on can be ridiculously complex, requiring highly skilled individuals to architect, build and maintain so the business can get on and be profitable entities. What I am saying is that we are in danger of bringing that complexity to the business without the appropriate language filter.

A good example of inappropriate language filters would be going to your doctor and having them say something like, “You have an acute case of Nasopharyngitis, repair to your habitual residence, elevate your pedis to an angle of 80 degrees to your torso, prepare a tincture of 7/8 tepid H2O, 1/8 Acetic Acid with 10g of C6H12O6.” You would most likely instead hear them say, “You’ve got a nasty cold, go home, make a nice warm lemon drink and put your feet up.” Both statements give the same information, but the latter is much more accessible to those not in the medical profession.

The electrical transmission industry has often been cited as an analogy for cloud computing with the statement often going, “When you turn on a light switch you don’t care how the power got there, you just want the light to turn on.” Does an office worker really give two hoots that when they open their mail client it connects to a front end mail server, which in turn connects to a back end database server and an identity management service? I dare say they don’t; ultimately all they care about is, “when I open this application my mail gets delivered and I can do my job”.

The advent of cloud computing has started to help businesses in this conversation. Instead of having to purchase specific devices or applications to perform business functions, now they can go and purchase a service. This is starting to commoditise IT, removing the need for the business to be overloaded with terminology they don’t really understand, or even need to understand and ultimately getting the services they need in the most efficient manner. With architectural complexity moving from within the business confines to the cloud provider, this in turn frees up resources within the organisation to perform other tasks that are potentially more valuable to the business.

Cloud providers are very good at doing what they do best, providing resources and services to businesses so they can run their operations. What cloud providers don’t necessarily do is understand their customers’ businesses or their data they are manipulating. This function still resides within the organisation themselves and is ultimately their competitive advantage. Reallocating internal resources to this is far more valuable to a business than looking after legacy pieces of tin performing functions that cloud providers can do far more efficiently for lower cost.

A great analogy I’ve heard many times is that a good cloud is like a swan gliding over the water; graceful elegant and serene as it glides across the water, whilst underneath the feet are working hard to keep everything moving. The quest – therefore – among IT folk should be for ‘Elegant Simplicity’. Having built a number of clouds in my career, and having worked for a leading cloud vendor I understand intimately just how complex they are. They contain numerous systems, sub systems and even sub systems of sub systems, all designed to provide a simple platform for customers to consume.

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Jonathan is a technology realist with over 20 years experience in multi-national system integrators, innovative vendors and cloud start-ups. A thought leader in service design and strategy, he has consulted with numerous organisations, helping them shape their product and service offerings. Using the knowledge and experience he has gained working across many different technologies, industries and markets, he helps businesses choose and implement the right technology and services to solve their business challenges, increase their profitability and expand their market share. Jonathan is responsible for the design and development of Ospero's service offerings and leads the consulting organisation.