Friday, November 28, 2014

When to centralize?

As a system campus, we must balance whether a technology service should be supported centrally or locally. Maybe you have a similar situation, where many campuses or colleges work together within a common framework, yet remain independent.

At Morris, I prefer to leverage (where possible) the Common Good services provided at the enterprise level. We already pay into an "enterprise tax" to support these services, so it makes no sense for me to maintain my own cost pool to support redundant services here when we could divest those services to the enterprise. In many cases, I directed the creation of these enterprise services when I was Senior Manager in the Office of Information Technology, so I already know they are solid service offerings. But where to draw the line between "central" and "local" services? This is the guide that we use:

Central
  • Does the service support multiple campuses?
  • Would an interruption of the service negatively impact the University as a whole?
  • Is there existing demand for an enterprise offering?
  • Is the technology mature, stabilized?
  • Is the service a commodity, where we provide little or no additional value?
  • Does the service require a higher level of expertise?
  • Does it serve a broad institutional need?
  • Does it require a single point of institutional accountability?

If you find yourself answering Yes to most or all of these, then you should centralize the service.

Local
  • Does the service support only a few units, or one unit?
  • Would an interruption of the service only impact the local unit?
  • Is there limited demand?
  • Is this an emerging technology?
  • Is the service for a unique need?
  • Does the service require specialized knowledge?
  • Does it serve a niche, or a singular strategic priority?
  • Does it require local or shared accountability?

If you agree more with this list, then you should consider supporting the service locally.

For example, we have divested most of our web servers to the "managed hosts" and "shared web" services at the Twin Cities. We don't need to support these services with any particular expertise; anyone can run a web server. We don't bring additional value to the university by running the web server, we add value through content and applications. So we let others manage the server, and we focus on the content.

But in another example, we have maintained several research systems, and continue to run them at Morris. These are specialized systems that support local research. We may need to provide unique configurations that benefit research at Morris. So we choose to maintain those systems locally.

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