Suburban Flight, Technology Sprawl, and Garage IT

This blog post is sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Suburban flight is a term describing the migration of people away from an urban center into its surrounding, less-populated, residential communities, aka suburbs.  The urban center is a large city or metropolitan area providing a source of employment and other professional opportunities, whereas suburbs provide a sense of community and other personal opportunities.  Despite their strong economic ties to the urban center, most suburbs have political autonomy and remain focused on internal matters.

Historically, the IT department has been a technological urban center providing and managing the technology used by all of the people within a large organization.  However, in his blog post Has your IT department died yet?, John Dodge pondered whether this notion of “the IT department as a single and centralized organization is on the way out at many enterprises.”

David Heinemeier Hansson raised similar points in his recent blog post The end of the IT department, explaining “the problem with IT departments seems to be that they’re set up as a forced internal vendor.  But change is coming.  Dealing with technology has gone from something only for the techy geeks to something more mainstream.”

Nicholas Carr, author of the infamous 2004 book Does IT Matter?, expanded on his perspective in his 2009 book The Big Switch, which uses the history of electric grid power utilities as a backdrop and analogy for Internet-based utility (i.e., cloud) computing:

In the long run, the IT department is unlikely to survive, at least not in its familiar form.  IT will have little left to do once the bulk of business computing shifts out of private data centers and into the cloud.  Business units and even individual employees will be able to control the processing of information directly, without the need for legions of technical people.”

Cloud computing, as well as software-as-a-service (SaaS), open source software, and the rise of mobile computing have all been contributing factors to the technology sprawl that has begun within many large organizations, which, similar to suburban flight, is causing a migration of people and business units away from an IT-centric approach to providing for their technology needs.

We are all familiar with the stories of how some of the world’s largest technology companies were started in a garage, including Google, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard (HP), which William Hewlett and David Packard started in a garage in Palo Alto, California.

However, in this new era of the consumerization of IT, new information technology projects may start—and stay—in the garage, where in the organizational suburbs, most business units, and some individual users, will run their own Garage IT department.

Although decentralizing IT is a net positive for better servicing the technology needs of the organization, will Garage IT stop large organizations from carpooling together toward the business-driven success of the corporate urban center?  In other words, will the technological autonomy of the consumerization of IT help or hinder enterprise-wide communication and collaboration?

This blog post is sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.


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