During the 80s and 90s, several companies created dedicated IT departments as they recognized the benefits of a single department responsible for implementing and maintaining all corporate technology. During this period, technology was often expensive and complicated, and many people had little understanding of it.
The arrival of beige boxes on the desks of employees often generated discontentment as it was evident that the hardware and software within them could be better utilized by a different team.
The practice of centralizing IT departments in numerous companies persisted as a new group of tech-savvy employees joined the workforce. Although centralizing hardware purchases proved advantageous, most departments still struggled with the intricacies and challenges of independently recruiting application developers, as outlined in our blog post about employing independent AI programmers.
The drive for standardization between businesses was widespread, with IT departments focusing on either Dell computers or Oracle software to support interoperability and cut costs. Despite the substantial expenses associated with developing and maintaining software, having a team of specialists in certain technologies could accelerate the acquisition process.
In recent years, the drive for standardization and cost reduction has made centralization an increasingly appealing concept in the business world. Centralized management offers several financial and technological benefits, particularly in areas that are costly and challenging such as cybersecurity. IT industry executives have embraced this approach to application development to better manage technicians and enhance internal standards while reducing expenses, as discussed in our blog post discussing the benefits and drawbacks of distributed network applications.
Why Decentralization is Crucial in Tackling API Bottlenecks
Despite attempts to standardize and reduce expenses, IT has sadly become a significant barrier to innovation in numerous companies. A former boss of mine, who headed a business unit, once remarked that “IT is where dreams go to die” upon learning that her request to create a new customer-facing application would only be fulfilled after clearing an 18-month backlog within the relevant division.
One of the main reasons for adopting a centralized system has lost much of its relevance. Common standards for application development, implementation of toolkits, and support services have been significant factors that support centralization for a long time.
Integrating software and hardware has historically been a difficult and arduous process, even when both components were provided by the same organization. However, the emergence of RESTful APIs has transformed the way programs interact, enabling them to communicate seamlessly across various technologies.
The universal implementation of USB connectors on laptops has made it feasible to connect a diverse range of consumer and industrial devices. In the same vein, the adoption of a standard interface could potentially facilitate interoperability between incompatible technologies and programs.
With this approach, IT departments can shift their focus from being gatekeepers of technological development to functioning as strategic advisors.
Service Catalogs: Centralization is Key, but not Management
Amazon’s pioneering technology approach has been nothing short of revolutionary, leveraging interoperability across the entire organization. In a bold move to expand the company’s capabilities, Amazon’s technology team implemented a variety of technology providers, all with a documented set of user interfaces.
Initially, this policy change empowered Amazon departments with the autonomy to make independent technological decisions, but required them to provide detailed documentation of their decisions and ensure interface support during development. The emphasis on standardized interfaces, rather than shared technology, played an integral role in the creation of Amazon Web Services.
Businesses can now leverage IT services with standardized interfaces without requiring the same level of expertise or resources as Amazon. With this transition, departments can create and deploy services that are customized to their unique requirements, while also serving as a gateway for the entire organization.
Instead of IT being responsible for selecting, assessing, and managing every technology-related initiative, departments can now acquire expertise independently or seek the assistance of an external partner. IT can still offer a comprehensive range of services, but by prioritizing integration, it can unlock new possibilities for the divisions it supports. This shift enables IT to transform from a limiting factor to an enabling aid.
To implement this change successfully, it is crucial to maintain a centralized registry of all available services. Departments do not have to develop their own financial management services or operate independently from the rest of the organization. For this reason, it is imperative to establish uniform standards for security, authentication, and validation across all internal and external services.
The IT team should integrate approved services into a searchable catalogue. If successful, this catalogue could serve as a platform where employees can develop new products by buying and selling pre-existing technology. To make this service as useful as possible, a standard order status service should be clearly detailed in the catalogue. This information can then be utilized by the marketing team to devise innovative campaigns independently of IT, and by the customer service team to create a unique ‘self-help’ application that utilizes order data.
For smaller organizations with limited resources, a service catalogue and guidance on partner selection for creating new services can greatly increase value. Instead of needing an experienced team to start from scratch in gathering, analyzing, and developing a new tool, a junior developer can quickly assemble a variety of well-defined services to create a practical new tool.
With the IT industry moving towards distributed design and construction, many professionals are now assuming advisory roles. Information technology is quickly transitioning from a department that allocates limited resources to a provider of accessible services and advice for collaborating with both internal and external stakeholders.