Kicking the Complexity Habit


“Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let our affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…Simplify, simplify!” – Thoreau

This world of information technology (IT) faces a significant challenge: an unrelenting addiction to complexity. This obsession seems insatiable, leading the entire industry into a continuous cycle of convolution that has infiltrated every aspect of our daily lives. It's high time we confront this issue head-on and seek a pathway to simplicity for the benefit of all stakeholders. This blog marks the beginning of a series that explores the challenges of inherent complexity within enterprise networking and charts the course for addressing them.

Needless complexity is rampant in the IT industry today, adding friction to every phase of a project, from design to deployment, operations to lifecycle management. From the outset, we encounter delays due to unnecessary complications. Worse yet, we’ve come to accept this state as normal, so much so that many of us reject simpler solutions as unsuitable for our needs. We’ve confused a lack of clarity with sophistication.

Here’s the truth: Complexity is a tax, burdening every process and decision. When considering the challenges facing organizations today—such as skills shortages, rapidly changing requirements, intense competition, and constant cost-cutting—this IT complexity amplifies each issue. It slows our progress, consumes our budget, hinders business growth, and undermines our competitive edge. 

Knowing this, why is our industry enamored with complexity? The reasons are multiple. As Eugene Yan insightfully notes in his post, “Simplicity is An Advantage but Sadly Complexity Sells Better,” we often perceive complexity as an indicator of greater effort, expertise, innovation, and a rich feature set. Many of us, having faced the practical implications know that that this isn’t true. Yet, here we are, trapped in a cycle that perpetuates the very complexity we know is holding us back. Isn't it time we question this paradox?"

Not only that, but it’s often intentional. Having a dedicated user base that’s invested in trainings, certifications, and reliant on professional services serves the interests of the same vendors who engineer this complexity. It becomes challenging to switch to a more suitable system because these vendors have cultivated a user base that chooses technology based on familiarity, not merit. This calculated complexity hinders simpler technology and open standards, which goes against a strategy of deliberate lock-in. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. As an industry, we can choose to embrace simplicity, and reap the benefits collectively. By doing so, we can increase productivity, reduce costs, enhance both customer and employee satisfaction, and become more agile in responding to change. We’ve already seen this approach work wonders in consumer technology. Companies like Apple and Google, for example, have thrived by making user experience a priority. What's stopping the enterprise sector from taking cues from these successes and adapting accordingly?

The current era of intense disruption offers a perfect moment to break free from the cycle of complexity. With ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies, we have an ideal opportunity to re-evaluate and re-imagine how we design and operate IT systems. Observing the areas of design, programming, and consumer technology reveals the beneficial impact of concentrating on simplicity, modularity, and user experience. Lessons in embracing simplicity—from design and systems to products and processes—can readily be adopted in the enterprise IT domain to transform our businesses.

In the upcoming posts in this series, I will delve deeper into the far-reaching implications of complexity in the IT industry, its hidden costs, and how it takes root in the first place. We'll look at how complexity impacts financial considerations, time management, and user experience—breaking it down to both visible and hidden spending. Furthermore, we'll explore the inherent challenges in the labyrinth of IT systems and the potential to shift our focus towards the subtle genius of simplicity. By understanding the full scope of the problem, we can begin to chart a course towards applied simplicity, both for our businesses and the industry at large.

About the Author
Justin Hurst
Chief Technology Officer, APAC

Justin Hurst is the CTO, APAC for Extreme Networks, where he is responsible for guiding the technical vision for the Extreme platform in the APAC region.

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