It seems like a common theme among large organizations – there is central large group in charge of a certain area, and there are smaller groups that have responsibilities in similar areas but designed to fit the needs of smaller departments. Whether it is HR, facilities management, or event planning. With this type of system, it is common for there to be concerns about the larger group being inflexible, or the smaller group not having enough staff to accomplish what the larger group doesn’t have the time to get to.
Information Technology is no exception to this trend. Indeed, based on conversations I have had with colleagues in IT throughout the country the theme holds true between “distributed IT” and the campuses main IT group. The distributed IT groups are usually smaller and independent IT groups in colleges or departments that intimately know their clients and their needs, and usually report within their college or department. This is in contrast to the central campus IT group that can be comprised of hundreds of individuals, and while they may not be intimately familiar with many of their customers their size allows them to have experts in areas distributed IT groups couldn’t afford.
Left unchecked, viewing the groups like this can lead to friction. Distributed IT groups might complaint about response times from central IT, and central IT may be concerned that distributed IT groups don’t have enough specialists.
There is a way I like to look at this system in a positive light, and I think viewing it this way minimizes friction and helps the groups work together. I like to call it the battleship analogy, and it is something that has been talked about in groups like TBSr.
Centralized IT groups are like a battleship. They are large and have budgets to match, they have experts in many specialized areas – even cooks. They have armaments that when all used for the same goal can accomplish a lot. However, out of sheer physics a battleship would not be able to turn on a dime if needed. Distributed IT groups are like speed boats. They are small, and their independence allows them to be flexible and mobile. They may not have specialists for everything, like a cook, but everyone on the boat knows each other well, and they can usually help out with each others jobs. If needed, the boat can stop quickly or turn rapidly – or even outrun the battleship for a while.
Both ships are essential and import to an organization. The speed boat can’t cross the ocean, and the battleship is to large to change directions on short notice. However, if they work together they can accomplish both tasks well.