At some point in most organizations, the decision is made to centralize and/or standardize Information Technology Services. This need for centralization and standardization arises from the complexity that comes with increasing size and the difficulty of managing an environment that has multiple moving parts—many in different directions.

The desire to take control of an environment that is considered in “disarray” is a strong one, and in many cases, it’s not a bad idea. However, having been on both sides of this debate, I have discovered some truisms about changing your IT structure that you might want to ponder before making a final decision:

  1. Totally centralized, totally decentralized, or a hybrid IT environment can all work—it just takes good top management, a robust set of plans and an IT framework to pull it off.
  2. If you are going to insist on centralizing IT, you better be prepared to be flexible and provide superior customer service. One thing that decentralized environments tend to excel at is customer service—because they are closer to the customer and often are run by the customer. Therefore, if you are going to take IT functions away from the other departments, be prepared to deliver service like they did.
  3. Standardization does not have to mean centralization. It means that all parties agree to abide by a set of standards.
  4. Forcing standards down people’s throats is like taxation without representation. You are inviting people to rebel. Form a governance committee where users have a voice.
  5. Standards are not always black and white and they need to be reviewed frequently.
  6. Technology changes rapidly and standards that don’t change with them will soon become hated mandates.
  7. Piggybacking on the point above, try to build IT environments that are flexible and can accommodate new and changing technology.
  8. Don’t use standards as a lame excuse for not being open to new ideas and innovation.
  9. Setting a standard for a product such as a laptop and then giving users one configuration choice is not really a choice, nor is it customer friendly.
  10. Listen to users’ needs and make sure your standardized choices can meet those needs; if not, your standards are worthless.
  11. Just because a departmental IT operation is small does not mean it is insignificant. Often, they are working better and smarter than central IT and are providing better customer service.
  12. Unless you are staffed for it and are extremely customer-focused, allowing users no control will lead to end user frustration.
  13. IT support/helpdesk and the rest of your IT operation need to communicate often.
  14. Communicate, communicate, communicate—about your plans, about your problems, about threats, current trends, etc. Don’t treat your end users like mushrooms; they will hate you for it and will not support you.
  15. At budget time, you will hear nasty rumors floating around regarding your IT organization, whether they are true or not. Best to thwart those by abiding by the rule above.
  16. Never forget that the IT organization is there to help the business work better, smarter, faster, cheaper…it is not enough just to keep the lights on.
  17. An IT organization without standards can be a management nightmare and extremely wasteful. But an IT organization whose standards are too rigid, tends to be out of touch.
  18. Communication will aid any type of structure you choose—and the structure you use will help determine the kinds of communication you need to employ.
  19. Great technologists do not necessarily make the best managers.
  20. No organizational structure can completely make up for bad management.

Having said all of that, my experience has been the happiest when running or being a part of a hybrid environment. Some IT services are best managed as a centralized service while others are left decentralized – although, I have seen the extreme in each work well or very poorly.

In most cases, as long as your users are getting good service and have a voice in the operations, most don’t give a hoot how IT is structured. However, if you stop delivering good service, you will start to feel pressure to move in the opposite direction, as users will clamor for change in order to get better service.