The organizational structures that have the greatest chance of success are either a strong centralized IT organization or a decentralized one that has unambiguous separation of duties, with the infrastructure usually belonging to the central group. This later model only works when there is buy-in to standardization and when buy-in begins to weaken the central management is willing to step in to re-establish standards authority.
The figure can help with a current baseline assessment and with the prioritization of standards requirements. This assessment should be focused on today and tomorrow. An assessment of current variation in each of the areas should be made followed by a strategy for reducing variation over some reasonable period of time.
Figure 2: A Standards Requirements & Planning Matrix
The figure requires you to look at your governance and processes, your platforms, your primary software applications, your architectures, your acquisition and disposition standards, as well as your life cycles. The objective of these assessments is to reduce variation as a means to save money and preserve flexibility. The figure also requires you to realistically determine your organizational structure's relationship to standards-setting. If you're decentralized then you have some serious governance work to do; if you're centralized then you'll have fewer religious wars over standards. The figure asks you to think about the enterprise versus the divisions or business units and proceed accordingly.
Here are some standards recommendations:
- You need to standardize on your desktop, laptop and personal digital assistant (PDA) devices. Get a couple of vendors to bid, but select one and stay with it until there are too many good reasons to switch! Without a truckload of reasons, stay with the single vendor avoiding best of breed approaches (that complicate your integration and interoperability requirements).
- You need to standardize on browsers and on an applications architecture that uses the browser as the common applications interface, that is, the primary way users (employees, suppliers and customers) access applications and data bases. One way to do this is to designate a standard portal application.
- While perfect standardization seldom works, the goal should be to standardize on as few word processors, messaging systems, spreadsheets, data bases, and the like that make your company work.
- Standardization can be vendor-specific or best of breed. Increasingly, large enterprises are moving away from best of breed and toward a more vendor-specific standardization strategy.
- Architectures often fall through the cracks. You need to identify at least the communications, applications and security architectures and standardize as much of them as you can. Move to a single messaging system if at all possible and standardize on groupware, workflow, imaging and related applications.
- The way you build applications -- if you're still building applications -- and the way you configure your off-the-shelf applications will save you or cost you lots of money. Standardize your applications architecture so you can support your environment as it grows without bankrupting the whole company. Make sure you standardize on a single security architecture as well.
- Standardize on the processes by which you acquire hardware and software: one individual or organization in your company should have the necessary responsibility and authority to purchase hardware, software and services for your entire organization. Don't let vendors divide and conquer you.
- Life cycles come in many shapes and sizes. Focus on three: requirements management, development/integration capabilities, and end-to-end systems design, development, deployment and support.
- Make someone accountable for developing standards scenarios that calculate the quantitative costs and benefits of standardization. Check out what the competition is doing to gain insight into these numbers. Project what might happen over time if your organization refuses to standardize.
Since standardization does not generate direct impact to the bottom line, you'll have to communicate why it makes sense to standardize. Use industry benchmarks to communicate why you should standardize and how the process might work.
If you're lucky you'll avoid a few religious wars over standardization. Good luck.
Steve Andriole is the founder and chief technology officer (CTO) of TechVestCo, a new-economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He is formerly the senior vice president and CTO of Safeguard Scientifics and CTO and senior vice president for Technology Strategy at CIGNA Corp. His career began at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency where he was the director of Cybernetics Technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.