The swings in IT between centralization and decentralization are well known. The most recent extreme of decentralization came in the late 1980s, when rogue PCs could be found in virtually every department of the enterprise. The rise of networking started the pendulum swinging back towards centralization. But right now, an argument can be made that the pendulum is swinging in both directions at the same time. What's certain is that the centralization-decentralization debate is not about to go away.
An article from the Business Intelligence Network this week about Web 2.0, BPM 2.0 and BI 2.0 argues that, in general, the 2.0s are "disruptive." Blogs, for example, bypass centralized controls, and can result in the proliferation of information that is inaccurate, proprietary, or generally damaging to the enterprise. But, according to a recent article in PC-Welt, these decentralized communications are becoming "core elements of the enterprise collaboration infrastructure."
Mash-ups are another phenomenon that promotes decentralization. While still beyond the skill set of the non-technical, mash-ups are proliferating at the departmental level. And, surprisingly, enterprise content management vendors are contributing to the trend with enterprise-oriented products.
At the same time, centralized approaches to data continue to gain favor. In the U.S. government, a centralized approach seems to be the only way to comply with federal guidelines. And there is a credible argument that Sarbanes-Oxley compliance is easier and less costly in a centralized environment.
Perhaps the strongest force for centralization, however, is SOA, which requires a central repository so developers can find existing services, plus strong central controls to ensure that those services really can work together.