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Tips for Standardizing Your I.T. Infrastructure

Originally published at TechSoup.org as Tips for Standardizing Your IT Infrastructure on July 7, 2008.

This article was adapted from TechSoup’s MaintainIT Project, an effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to gather and distribute stories around maintaining and supporting public computers. MaintainIT content is now hosted at TechSoup for Libraries, our portal of resources for librarians worldwide.

This article is available in Spanish courtesy of TechSoup Global partner CDI Chile.

Una versión de este artículo está disponible en español por cortesía de CDI Chile, socio de TechSoup Global.

IT Standardization is a strategy for minimizing IT costs within an organization by keeping hardware and software as consistent as possible and reducing the number of tools you have that address the same basic need. It may take the form of ensuring that every computer has the same operating system, or of purchasing hardware in bulk so that every PC in your office is the same make and model. Standardization often goes hand in hand with centralization, the process of giving your IT department more control over purchases of hardware and software, and more control over what staff members are allowed to do with their office computers.

While imposing equipment standards can help you streamline your IT infrastructure, simplify decision-making, and minimize purchasing and maintenance costs, the process of standardizing itself can be complicated. Below, we’ll show you ways to gauge the level of standardization your organization requires, highlight some of the benefits of standardization, and offer tips for standardizing your equipment while balancing organizational and staff needs.

How Standardized Do You Need to Be?

Being open and adaptive to new technologies can be important to both your organization’s mission and its ability to operate efficiently. Likewise, being flexible when it comes to individual preferences — whether it’s working on a specific platform or using a particular spam filter — can help employees work better and encourage creativity.

Yet every technology you introduce to your nonprofit — whether you implement it organization-wide or just on one computer — comes with hidden and not-so-hidden costs. Every new piece of software equipment you add to your IT arsenal can require installation, maintenance, staff training, repair, patches, upgrades, and more.

How you address this tension between innovation on the one hand and the need for consistency on the other depends on your size, your organizational culture, how many IT staff you have, and how tech-savvy your staff is. While some organizations are very centralized — purging unsupported hardware or software as soon as it’s detected — other organizations eschew strict enforcement in favor of a more balanced, less time- and resource-intensive approach. These organizations may allow staff to download unsupported software, for example, but refuse to troubleshoot it and will uninstall it if it conflicts with other programs. (Note that this more flexible route carries with it an increased risk of spyware and virus infections, however.)

For these reasons, it’s important to adopt a standardization policy that fit your situation and needs. Though there are many benefits to centralizing your purchases, decide what makes the best sense for your organization before making sweeping changes to your current setup.

The Benefits of Standardization

Hardware and software aren’t the only aspects of an IT system that you might consider streamlining. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the advantages of standardizing everything from your operating system to your vendor relationships.

Tips for Standardizing Your Equipment

If you work in an office with multiple models and versions of software and equipment, the task of standardizing everything can be overwhelming. Starting from scratch by buying all new equipment is probably not an option for most (if any) organizations, but there are a few steps you can take to standardize your equipment over time.

Balancing IT Needs and Staff Needs

If your organization has traditionally allowed departments to choose and customize their own equipment, it can be difficult to convince employees to switch to a more centralized, standardization-friendly IT purchasing system. Yet there are ways to streamline your purchasing procedures without ignoring staff needs.

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