Sunday, May 20, 2007

network apps and the demise of centralized IT

Some observations...
  • We're seeing more and more powerful network based applications, available for free on the Internet: GMail, Google productivity apps, Flickr, etc.;
  • Often, these applications are arguably, the best of breed in their class; they work better than anything you'd pay for and install on your desktop or on your network's local servers
  • People can adopt these applications independently or in small communities within their organizations; no central coordination or IT support is necessary;
  • They can be used across organizational boundaries--folks from different companies or universities can dive in an work together;
  • They can, increasingly, be purchased and adapted to an organizational setting (see Google Apps)
As network-based applications mature and we see more of them become available in niche areas, a dramatically reduced role for centralized information technology support in organizations. Central IT used to be a necessity because of the infrastructure required to support systems. Technology support will gravitate to the edges of the organization, with the focus shifting to the rightful application of the technology rather than technology as infrastructure.

This, I suppose, will happen faster in loosely coupled organizations like universities. In the university environment, I can imagine administrative computing being done between the business office and the registrar, with relevant applications hosted off site in a style. The public web site designed and maintained by the communications office and hosted by an off site firm, including supporting back end databases, search services, etc. The communications systems (email, groupware, etc.) will be chosen and maintained by organizational development folks in HR. Academic technology will be applied in an ever diffuse fashion, with communities of practice developing across institutional boundaries, and institution-specific applications like CMSs maintained out of a Center for Teaching and Learning. Libraries have already seen a lot of the tools that they offer become remotely hosted web applications, and in some ways, they will lose more control. Their role will be facilitation and customization of these networked-applications.

IT will be there to support the plumbing: keeping up network and the relevant devices. Even some of the plumbing, especially data centers at smaller organizations, will go away. There will also be a persistent need for integration and standardization. But the strategic role of centralized IT will diminish, just like it did for those VP's of electricity in the last century according to Nick Carr.

A centralized IT operation was important in the past because you could aggregate software/hardware and knowledge in one place. But following that model was always dangerous as it removed those working on the IT from the parts of the organization that IT was designed to serve. As the support for equipment and software becomes more easily outsourced on the network, we'll see centrifugal tendencies accelerate.

The IT department that tries to maintain control too tightly will get "worked around" and just accelerate the phenomenon.

No comments: