Sunday, August 12, 2007

Managing Innovation

In a recent post on the CIO listserv ( ) there’s been some discussion on how much to centralize or decentralize the management of IT in the university. As one respondent said:

"polarizing the choices of management approaches to A (centralization) OR B (decentralization) is bound to get you down the wrong path......The interesting challenge for us is whether or not we can now create compelling services centrally whose service attributes, performance, and even governance look and feel local......This challenge changes the discussion to one about where and when and how can we can centralize..."

In Katz's edited book Dancing With the Devil there's an essay (“Developing and Using Technology as a Strategic Asset”) that elaborates on this challenge. The basic argument is that campus information technologies (like most other technologies) go through a life cycle. In the early incubation stages, when they are just being conceived and developed they probably shouldn't be hosted or 'centralized.' But as the technology becomes more reliable, as it becomes a service that everyone uses and depends upon, as it becomes effectively 'commoditized' it becomes a technology that should be centrally hosted and managed. The essay in many ways substantiates the above post to the listserv: it's not a question of whether to centralize or decentralize, it's a question of "where and when" to centralize.

One thing that is interesting about this management strategy is that it provides a caveat to Carr's IT Doesn't Matter. Carr is often conceived as someone who thinks of IT as something that has become commoditized, and that because IT has been commoditized it should be treated strictly as a utility. Katz' position offers some qualifications to this vision of IT; to be sure there may be types of information technology that need to be centralized within the university. But that doesn't mean that everything should be centralized or that the university shouldn't continue to provide incubation spaces where innovation can continue to occur.