Standardizing Your IT Infrastructure

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. In the following section, 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.

Why Standardize Your IT Infrastructure?

  • Reduce the burden on IT staff. Your IT department faces a learning curve with each new piece of technology you bring on board. If you’re supporting four types of antivirus software in your library, each of those applications uses a different procedure for updating and patching. The troubleshooting and support skills needed for each application are different. The online resources for each piece of software are different.
  • Avoid compatibility problems. It’s difficult to find replacement parts and match the right part with the right computer if you’re supporting 15 different models. Also, the more software and hardware you have, the more often you’ll encounter conflicts and errors that are hard to isolate and fix.
  • Improve communication. Finally, it’s hard for your IT staff to communicate with frontline employees about troubleshooting issues if there’s no standard. Neither side really knows what the other party is talking about.
  • Other benefits. A more thorough discussion of the ways you can standardize is available in Benefits of Standardization.

Key Actions

  • Buy in quantity. Dell, HP and other vendors change their models constantly, so the computer you buy this week is different from the one you bought last week, even though the model number is exactly the same. It may have a different network card, a different hard drive or even a different motherboard. If someone has to have a computer right away, try to reuse your existing machines until you can put together a larger order. To roll your smaller purchases into larger purchases, focus your attention on planning and asset tracking.
  • Buy business models. When you’re buying new computers, look at the business models instead of the home models. Manufacturers (Dell, HP, etc.) change the components in their business machines much less frequently. They might freeze your model for six or nine months, and when they do make a significant change, they’ll notify you in advance.
  • Plan ahead. If you speak with a broad cross­-section of your library employees and department heads during the process of writing your technology plan, you’ll know roughly how many new staff members you can expect during the coming year and if your library plans to add any new public computers.

Stories from the Field

Yeah, when I first started here at the bottom of the totem pole about eight years ago now, there was no standardization at all. And in fact, there wasn’t any kind of automated process for distributing software. So it took a whole day for somebody to sit down and install the software on a PC, which automatically led to a lack of standardization. You’re always gonna make a mistake when you’re doing it manually. And then there were multiple models of computers, because they would just buy whatever could be purchased whenever the money was available rather than making large bulk purchases and keeping it standardized.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, MN

Right now, one of the biggest problems in our old building is that everything was different. Like, we would buy a PC here and a PC there and get one donated, and everything was different, so maintaining everything was hard. And the goal now is we’re just going to turn over everything all at the same time, and so all the PCs in the building, at least the public PCs, would all be the same. And right now, they’re all exactly the same systems, with exactly the same hardware loaded on them, and they all work the same. So it’s easy for the public when they come in — no matter what workstation they sit down at, it’s exactly the same as any other. And it’s easy to maintain them because the people [who] are working with [them] know what’s on there and the different glitches with them and whatnot. And so our goal is to have this turnover where we just put money aside every year for this big purchase every four years, and then you get a good deal on PCs. You’re buying in bulk.

Valerie Meyerson
Charlevoix Public Library, MI

What I try to do is replace whole branches at a time. When I do the main branch, for example, there’ll be, like, 100 computers that I buy, and I’ll buy them all at one time. But then the smaller branches, I group them together so that I’m replacing several branch computers at the same time. Honestly, I don’t like to buy fewer than about 50 PCs at a time, just because we try to stay on a five-year cycle — not even five years, four years. So I try to buy as much as I can at one time. Then when I do buy some more computers, I try as often as possible to get similar hardware configurations.

Michelle Foster
Boone Public Library, KY