One of the common challenges we face in every aspect of our business is to provide more value at less cost. We have been on this journey for several years in Information Technology (IT) at Celanese; and as much of the low hanging fruit has disappeared, we are now facing a significant enemy that we must take on: complexity.

As we zero-in on a target total cost of IT services for the company, we have multiple paths. One path is to change services and sometimes service levels. Another is to be more productive in supporting all we have. But the most compelling path is to reduce what we have to support and free up capacity that can be brought to the bottom line or redirected at more value adding activities.

We’ve determined that much of the cost in IT is driven by the “stuff” we have to support. The key “stuff” includes hundreds of servers and thousands of applications. Why is this the most compelling path? Because when we look at why we have all of this stuff, we realize it is not only unnecessary to run our business, but in fact having all this stuff makes running the business for all the functions and businesses more complex and costly. In other words, “less is more.”

Years ago I was in an IT organization that went through a four-year process to reduce IT cost in half, from $1.2 billion to $600 million. The major simplification was a dramatic reduction in applications. It was a painful process, but once completed, by any measure of feedback from the businesses and functions, the IT services, applications and especially the quality of data was significantly better than before.   Better at a cost that was $600 million less. By having fewer ways to do similar things, the company overall was better at running its processes.

It is not easy to implement simplification. It is counter intuitive to both the IT team and the users to take things away that at one time we spent a lot of effort to put into place. You can’t just nibble at it and reduce a little. It has to be a significant reduction so the support processes and investments can be radically reduced; and it takes a partnership between IT, the business and the functions using the applications and servers to get it done.

We’ve decided that some of the best practices in executing a project – measuring results and celebrating success – are really important in this initiative. We’ve built an “applications and server cemetery” in our Dallas Business Services office that commemorates every application or server we eliminate.

These applications and servers have served us well.

When we hit a milestone (for example, 50 servers eliminated) then we celebrate across the global IT team. It reminds folks that eliminating something we no longer need and moving to a simpler world is a good thing.

What opportunities do you have to simplify the “stuff” that drives unnecessary cost in your area? What examples do you have of where “less is more”?

“The greatest ideas are the simplest.” – William Golding