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
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
- 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
- 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 [email protected].