Blog Post

Rewire and experiment: why complex IT is better

For older companies that want to adapt to shifting markets and consumer demand, legacy IT departments are a huge weakness. Composed of fragile islands coupled together, old IT systems must be handled slowly and gently to prevent a cascade of failures — with the result that their companies struggle to keep up with more nimble competition.

According to Jonathan Murray, the EVP and CTO of Warner Music Group, the solution is to replace older systems with what he calls “the composable enterprise” — a structure that’s complex and resilient, in which parts can be torn down and reassembled on the fly in order to meet current business demands.

Speaking at GigaOM’s Structure 2013 in San Francisco, Murray explained that cost was a traditional constraint on building IT systems; every piece of compute and memory was expensive, meaning that companies had to carefully plan every tiny allocation and did not have the luxury to experiment.

“The design blueprint was based on scarcity. Everything was expensive. CIOs had to squeeze out every ounce of efficiency,” he said.

Now, however, Murray says the economics of cloud architecture offer an opportunity for firms to create elaborate new systems and tinker on the fly. In doing so, IT professionals have to overcome a long-ingrained urge to fight complexity and instead develop decoupled eco-systems in which applications don’t depend on platform layers.

Murray also said IT departments must stop acting like labor-intensive craft teams and become like highly automated factory floors; this means, for example, ceasing to spend money on legions of employees who take care of legacy Unix systems.

The final goal, according to Murray, is for CIOs to stop regarding cost control as the paramount metric — and instead recognize that time to value is the most important unit of IT performance.

Check out the rest of our Structure 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page

2 Responses to “Rewire and experiment: why complex IT is better”

  1. Roland “If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.”
    — Author Unknown
    Has that changed? I don’t think so. Treat programmers like interchangeable parts and customers will end up treating your business the same way.

  2. justinnemmers

    Spot on. I really see innovation lacking as a result of forced vendor standardization. IT organizations really should be able to chose the best tool for the job. Shoehorning tools into ill-fitting problems often does end up costing more– largely as a result of (as you say) the “legions of admins” required to effectively support it. A “more tools” philosophy is not always wrong, and can, in fact, help organizations improve upon that dreaded requirement of cost control when properly managed. I heard this message over and over again from the hundreds of IT orgs I spoke with at last week’s Red Hat Summit. See point #3 in my blog: