If you’ve been around the business world more than about 5 minutes you’ve heard of the “KISS Principle” – Keep It Simple, Stupid. But surprisingly few businesses consistently adhere to this basic principle when it comes to their information technology operations.
Perhaps they should, because, companies could save $3,610 per year, per employee-user of technology by, well, continuously simplifying their technology. That’s the key point made by a new study from technology advisory giant IDC.
The KISS Principle routinely is credited to famed aeronautical engineer and advanced aircraft designer Kelly Johnson. As head of Lockheed’s legendarily secretive “Skunks Works” development team in the 1950s, Johnson became the father of two of the world’s most amazing aircrafts: the super-simple U-2 spy plane and its fancier, faster and super-sophisticated stable mate, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the fastest aircraft ever built (at least to the public’s knowledge).
Both planes represented technology 30 to 40 years ahead of their time, but were nevertheless remarkably simple in many respects. That, according to legend, is because Johnson occasionally would throw out a handful of ordinary wrenches and other tools and tell his designers and engineers that the planes they created would have to be simple enough that they could be repaired by ordinary mechanics using only those tools, and do so in battlefield conditions.
It was genius, modern, technology-focused restating of an age-old approach to innovation and invention. Previously there had been:
- Occam’s Razor, a 14th Century decision-making rubric that states that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”
- Leonardo da Vinci’s famous 15th Century assertion that “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
- Famed early 20th Century architect and designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s rigid insistence that “Less is more.”
How Simplicity Relates to Business Technology
IDC issued its detailed white paper in June, titled “Simplifying IT to Drive Better Business Outcomes and Improved ROI.” In it, the technology analysis and publishing company introduced what it calls the “IT Complexity Index” as a tool for evaluating a company’s level of technology complexity and steps to follow in reducing that complexity.
Technology complexity in businesses is both natural and understandable.
Leaders want newer, better, faster ways to enter, manage and analyze data and to operate their companies. Different technologies get installed at different times, and in different eras of technology advancement, often creating significant overlap or critical needs for yet more technology so existing tools can “talk” to one another. The result is a bloated technology stack that is difficult and expensive to manage and all-but-impossible to update.
Mergers and acquisitions make matters even worse by introducing redundant technologies. Consolidation of systems often introduces even more complexity in the drive to combine or eliminate duplicative or older technologies. Meanwhile vendors, internal developers, customers and competitors all push companies to update old and/or create new applications and technologies.
Complexities Become Painfully Obvious
Companies typically become acutely aware of complexity driven costs only when those costs become painfully obvious in their negative impact on a company’s competitive and/or financial performance.
IDC’s identification of that $3,610 per employee complexity penalty likely falls well short of the penalties most companies accept before saying “enough.” When they do reach that point, business leaders put their companies on a path toward simplification, a goal that if achieved at all, is quickly forsaken to meet revived demand for newer/better technology, a new round of mergers and acquisitions, and so on. It’s a vicious circle.
The best solution is to fight the rise of complexity on a consistent basis. That was at the heart of Kelly Johnson’s KISS Principle. And the way for today’s companies, and especially midsize and small firms that typically have smaller, less-experienced technology teams, is to seek the expertise of third-party technology consultants who can help turn a morass of technology into simple solutions that promote efficiency and save money.
Indeed, simplicity can be a beautiful thing, if you know how to find it.