I surprised a colleague when I spoke of 'central IT': "... is this a common term that i have just never heard?" was her immediate question.

"Yes," I answered. Yes, 'central IT' is indeed one of the common terms of art of computing practice. 'Central IT' contrasts with 'departmental IT' and 'shadow IT' or 'embedded IT', among others: the idea is that central IT takes responsibility for information technology throughout a large-scale organization, that is, for a thousand users or more. Highly-capitalized industries like petroleum and aerospace might exhibit many of the characteristics of central IT at smaller sizes, perhaps down to a hundred employees or so.

What are the characteristics of central IT? Central IT thinks in business terms: it's not just engineering technical solutions, but managing business solutions. Central IT needs to account for budget and schedule constraints, as well as technologic ones.

Central IT has a lot of responsibilities: it typically has to keep executives' mobiles functional, prevent viruses from taking over, fix unresponsive desktop machines, organize usage training, safeguard organizational databases, ensure disaster-recovery is in place, ensure legacy applications stay up, reset passwords, supply paper for printers, and so on. Attention to new functionality can easily slip to where it receives a few odd percent of total IT effort, at most. That makes central IT a target for observers promoting development or operational shortcuts.

Notoriously unresponsive central IT often perfectly reflects priorities and responsibilities of the larger organization. While it might be fun to develop a slick new microapp based on the Twitter API, central IT often finds the majority of its energies go to straightening out license confusions or guaranteeing that the organization doesn't rack up millions of dollars in fines for failure to comply with privacy mandates. The result: what looks like a straightforward functionality request often ends up backlogged by central IT for months before it can be fulfilled.

Everyone reading this article is probably in IT in one form or another. If you've never thought in terms of 'central IT', though, take a moment to be thankful that someone else shoulders the burden of figuring out how to replace the CEO's personal tablet, investigate which 90% of Marketing's license renewals are actually superfluous, and scheduling repairs on the weekend when your contractor says your headquarters can have Internet or running water, but not both.