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7/13/2012
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6 Habits Of Successfully Decentralized IT Departments

Granting individual departments greater IT autonomy need not come at a cost to your CIO powers. Here's how a hybrid model can help you strike a balance.

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As IT departments seek to strengthen their positions as strategic business partners and increase delivery speed, more CIOs are choosing to decentralize their IT shops. Granting various business lines greater and more independent access to IT operations becomes necessary.

However, many CIOs chafe at granting unfettered access to IT operations, fearing that relinquishing control will only give to rise to rogue activities, procurement nightmares, and integration headaches.

Those worries can be alleviated with a balanced approach, said Nari Kannan, founder of appsparq, a Louisville, Ky.-based mobile app development company. Kannan has experimented with both centralized and decentralized IT, and believes a hybrid model that combines a central IT infrastructure with a decentralized managed information system is the smartest way to strengthen an IT department without diluting an IT leader's control over business-critical IT operations.

[ Read How To Handle IT Growing Pains. ]

Here are six characteristics of a successful hybrid, according to Kannan:

1. Department heads use self-service technologies. Business-line leaders need no longer wait in queue for a new proprietary app to be developed. Instead, said Kannan, "What IT used to do, department heads can do for themselves now with a self-service or browser interface. These days, all it takes is a user name and password for an employee to go in and set up a Windows server or a Linux server. In two minutes it's done."

2. Increased productivity. IT departments are known for taking weeks--sometimes months--to respond to requests. By granting individual departments the ability to develop their own apps to meet specific business requirements, Kannan said CIOs can expect to significantly erode the backlog that so often delays IT operations and bogs down IT professionals.

3. Policy making stays close to home. Like it or not, there are times when a CIO simply can't afford to loosen the reins. "Companies still need centralized IT to set up policies to ensure security, disaster recovery, and business continuity," said Kannan. "These activities must remain under IT's purview." Data center activities, infrastructure operations, email, standards architecture--they also are central IT functions that should remain under one umbrella, advised Kannan.

4. Better communications. A centralized IT shop, with its red tape and autocratic decision making, can sometimes lead to communication breakdowns with business-line leaders. "Centralized IT has always found the communication gaps between IT and business departments very frustrating," said Kannan. "If smaller IT groups are attached to each business division, then these communication gaps can narrow." In fact, decentralized IT can help IT professionals better respond to the unique business needs of individual departments without burdening a CIO with minor requests and technical issues.

5. Procurement stays centralized. If it's economies of scale you're hoping to achieve, centralized IT is the way to go, said Kannan. That's because a centralized IT shop is better poised to take advantage of existing vendor relations and licensing agreements when purchasing hardware and software. What's more, centralized IT grants a CIO a broader and more accurate view of IT costs across the organization, and the impact of these expenses on a company's bottom line.

6. Integration is maintained. "Centralized IT helps ensure systems can talk to each other," said Kannan. With decentralized IT, "there's a chance that all these different departments will once again start developing apps in silos," he said. But while it's important for a CIO to stay on top of this potential risk, Kannan said that thanks to service-oriented architecture, "integration is still possible."

CIOs will always debate the pro and con of a decentralized IT environment. But as Kannan points out, a hybrid approach is an excellent way to reap the benefits of self-service and increased productivity without having to relinquish complete control of your powers.

By keeping activities such as procurement, security, and policy enforcement under the purview of centralized IT, while granting individual departments greater freedom, a CIO is most likely to reap the best of both worlds.

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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