We like to talk a lot about simplicity. We don’t often talk about the opposite, complexity. But there’s been a wave of conversations centered around complexity recently as experts spotlight how it causes problems for organizations.

What makes complexity bad?

When things are too complex, people don’t use them, writes Gerry McGovern in CMSWire. “The harder something is to use the less people will use it,” he writes. Users will revert back to a familiar but inefficient process rather than spend the time getting familiar with a complicated but more elegant solution.

Complex systems also require more training and implementation time, writes Jean-­Pierre Pequito in The Next Web. “Absorbed in clunky and dysfunctional interfaces, companies are forced to spend more in employee training and IT consulting services,” he notes. “At the same time, implementation of the systems can take months or even years. This makes the adoption of enterprise software very restricted.”

But how complex is too complex? That line is difficult to draw because there isn’t an easy way to measure complexity. “We badly need a whole new set of metrics focused on complexity because complexity is becoming a bigger and bigger factor in getting and keeping customers, and in getting and keeping employees,” McGovern writes.

Fortunately, McGovern has a solution—sort of. “To measure complexity, you measure the customer outcome,” he writes. “You identify a customer’s top task and you measure the customer’s ability to complete that task quickly and easily. Measuring outcomes is the way the world is going.”

Still, measuring outcomes isn’t easy. It isn’t always clear what the outcome should be, how to measure it, or how to tell what prevented it from being completed.

Complexity is particularly an issue in a couple of IT areas. The first is mobility, writes mobile analyst Maribel Lopez (who was one of our 3 Questions subjects).

Mobile devices and apps are becoming way too complex, which makes it more difficult for users to decide whether to buy them, she notes. “It’s almost impossible for a prospect to understand how these products differ without researching the specifications for each device,” she warns. “If a prospect doesn’t have the time to complete their research, they’ll wait and return at another date. Or worse yet, they’ll buy another product because it’s easier to understand its value.”

Complexity is also interfering with companies’ adoption of the cloud, according to two separate surveys.

“Beyond security and other concerns, complexity of migration and integration proves to be IT’s top challenge,” found CDW in its report, Cloud 401: Navigating Advanced Topics In Cloud Computing. In particular, 59 percent of survey respondents say the complexity of migration and integration is holding them back from implementing cloud more fully.

Similarly, a report commissioned by the Australian telco Telstra found that 72 per cent of IT decision makers would prefer a single provider or broker for all of their cloud services rather than go through the challenge of managing multiple vendors. Nonetheless, a majority of respondents claimed to contract with at least three vendors for their cloud services because they are concerned that a single solution wouldn’t be flexible enough, Telstra continues.

Ironically, all of this is happening against a background where consumer software is becoming simpler, writes Pequito. This is true for a couple of reasons.

First, companies have been growing, which tends to increase complexity, Pequito writes. “Complexity is invisible and presents itself everywhere across organizations, and it gets worse and worse as companies grow,” he notes. “We have been adding more layers of management and sophisticated processes that are stretching the distance between strategy and execution.”

Second, legacy software is dragging corporations down because companies add functionality without getting rid of anything else. “Large organizations are dependently integrated with legacy systems built a decade ago for a different generation of users,” Pequito writes. “Enterprise IT has been sustaining innovation by incrementally adding functionality without reducing complexity.”

This means that nimbler startup companies—without the albatross of legacy software hanging around their necks—could have an avenue for entry, and that’s true for more than just IT companies.

Moreover, for IT staff, such startups could also have different distribution models that make it easier for individual divisions to obtain their own hardware or software, Pequito warns—setting up the risk of parallel “shadow IT” organizations that, ironically, make a company’s IT structure even more complex.

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