• March 30, 2017

Go for Boring: For Business Success, Make IT a Snoozer

Boring IT lets you focus on exciting business ideas.

By Joe Hill, Analytics Chief Technologist, Analytics & Data Management, and Fellow, Enterprise Services

“As Peter Drucker once said, good management is boring. If you want excitement, don’t go to a good management information system.” — Edward Tufte

In early August, an IT systems glitch disrupted Delta Air Lines’ data center. The malfunction forced the carrier to ground thousands of passengers and cancel hundreds of flights worldwide. The airline blamed it on a fire in an uninterruptible power supply unit, and 300 of its 7,000 data center components were not configured correctly to switch over to backup power. The month before, a malfunctioning data center router forced the grounding of 2,000 Southwest Airlines flights. Estimated costs: $120 million for Delta, $54 million for Southwest.

Airlines are plagued by a hodgepodge of interlinked legacy IT systems and strict uptime requirements. A wave of industry mergers over the last few years has resulted in ever-larger airlines that are ever-more reliant on IT systems that date from the 1990s. They’re difficult and costly to maintain. To this add mission-critical, consumer-facing systems where the customer experiences disruptions instantly. Sounds exciting, and it is—if panic attacks are your thing.

Boring Is Bold

For a successful digital transformation, go for boring. Boring just works. It’s seamless. It’s proactive and predictive. It isn’t the source of any unwanted excitement. Boring IT is almost invisible. Excitement should be coming from the business side of the enterprise, not from the scramble to put out IT fires.

Think of an umpire in a baseball game. They’re essential, but they should be inconspicuous. You don’t want them to be a part of the action. With boring IT, you’re able to focus on business process innovation, new products, new services, supply chain innovation, and customer engagement.

Boring does not mean IT isn’t complex. To be boring, a system needs to be automated and predictive. It enables proactive interventions before failures happen, before things become out-of-date. This demands a dull methodical approach and a deep understanding of the existing systems themselves.

Boring IT means you can’t have multiple legacy systems doing the same thing. You have to transform to technologies that are stable, easily adaptable, and agile. One way to achieve this is through composite services. Everything—applications, network components, servers, and devices—can be furnished by a diverse portfolio of service providers.

Out With Aging, High-Drama IT

Those enterprises that haven’t been investing and maintaining the currency of their IT systems risk catastrophic outages. Interlinked legacy IT systems are enormously complex—too complex for any one individual to know, much less understand. The longer these systems are in service, the greater the probability of failure. When the whole thing can easily unravel at any time, that is the opposite of boring.

Those with these high-drama systems are spending 80 to 90 percent of their IT resources on fixes and maintenance. Those with boring IT are spending those same amounts on new things that add value to their customers. Think Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Facebook—those guys thrive on boring IT.

Airlines are stricken with occasional process outages because their technology systems are long in the tooth. They often think they’re saving money and averting costly downtime headaches by not refreshing and updating. But making investments that gain value over time makes more sense than spending resources on fixes to keep vintage systems humming (or not).

Bottom line: Boring IT makes for exciting business with true value-generating investments.

Like this story? Find out the three things you must realize before you transform and read more about IT in the airline industry.

As Chief Technologist for Analytics in HPE’s Analytics & Data Management practice, Joe Hill helps define HPE’s Analytics Platform Reference Architecture, global methodologies for data science, and Actionable Analytics’ long-term strategy. Hill is also an Enterprise Services Fellow, a title reserved for exceptional technologists who set the standards for technical excellence and whose contributions shape our company and industry. He holds multiple patents and is passionate about the commercialization of innovation.