Friday, September 23, 2011

"Whatever you're doing now is wrong”-Gilbert's Corollary to Moore's Law [About central/decentral tech support.]

"Whatever you're doing now is wrong."  
That's still my best answer to "Should we be centralizing or decentralizing our tech support?" a question I've been asked many times in the past 30 years.   I try to soften the blow by adding "Whatever you're doing now is right, too." and then explaining why.
[See also BYOD "outsource your I.T. department to Apple" - TLT-SWG Posting]
Since 1965 we've been living with Moore's Law, which has become both a prediction and a prescription:  "performance of digital computers doubles every year or two".  So, every few years some of the functions that took advantage of the capabilities of the most powerful digital devices can be adapted to new personal devices. Of course, technology and consumer products can change much more rapidly and often than organizational structures - in businesses as well as educational institutions.  
  • Every few years we want a more decentralized, flexible support system that focuses on individual needs, personal devices, and tools neither owned nor controlled by the institution. 
  • And every few years we want a more centralized, stable, expert technology support group that focuses on providing access to resources neither owned nor controlled nor accessible to individuals.

Every few years [more frequently now?] some  services, tools, and resources which could previously only be afforded by institutions and only effectively managed by expert professionals become available within easy reach of most individuals.  Then we become frustrated with the procedures that brought us guidance, support, and maintenance of those resources that we valued and could not obtain easily elsewhere.  Now these same procedures and these same support professionals seem to be obstructing our rapid adoption of new personal technology options for some of the same purposes.   

On the other hand, the speed and power of the bigger computing devices also continues to grow.  And every few years attractive new functions that take advantage of these new capabilities are developed.  So we discover that, once again, we also want what we can only obtain from a centralized computing resource.  We want more of the kind of introductory training and guidance and resource management that is beyond what most of us are willing to provide for ourselves.  The flexible, more personalized decentralized support system seems inadequate because it is not structured to purchase, manage, and support the larger devices and systems that are becoming important for some of our work. 

And so it goes.  At any moment, most institutions are correcting for recent conditions.  Centralizing to catch up to new "big" capabilities.  
Decentralizing to catch up to new "personal" capabilities.  


Photo of "Foucault pendulum" by Daniel Sancho from Málaga, Spain 23 November 2005
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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