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How to manage the tension between autonomy and control in growing organisations

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Peshkova)

As organisations scale it’s inevitable that internal tensions develop as some groups push for autonomy and self-governance, while others push for control and consolidation. With control and consolidation, you get the benefits of cost savings, centralised management and compliance – but if an organisation consolidates too much, they can find that corporate tools and standards can lead to a lack of flexibility, ultimately resulting in reduced innovation.

Enterprising departments rebel, sidestepping corporate policy to do their own thing to tailor their product and ways of working to better meet customer demand. This leads to shadow IT. But then what happens when these autonomous groups need to collaborate, or cannot bear the costs of managing their own estate?

Organisations address these competing needs in a variety of ways including consolidated, federated and hybrid approaches. Each model has its strengths and weaknesses, and each leads to constraints, complexity, and the overheads of operation.

While the dilemma of how to address competing needs is universal across the software estate, it’s particularly acute in the domain of productivity tools like the Atlassian stack and in particular Jira, one of the most popular project management tools for software teams who need to organise and track their work.

The simplest way to manage a Jira estate is to have a single consolidated instance. This provides centralised administrative features, interoperability, high availability and consolidated performance. This is the least complicated approach, providing simplicity in both licensing and infrastructure. So far so good.

However, while on paper a consolidated approach may be the simplest to operate and manage (and indeed according to research the vast majority of enterprises believe that all of their users can operate from a single consolidated environment), within a short space of time the majority will end up with more than two instances of the same tool, immediately creating a federated environment.

Distinct benefits

As with many products with a low price point and practical value, Jira often starts in a single team and then spreads throughout an organisation, with new teams spinning up their own server. A company can also find itself managing several instances through a merger or acquisition, or different departments within a company may run their own IT organisation, leading to parallel Jira systems.

While many organisations find themselves operating a federated environment unintentionally, federation also provides a number of distinct benefits that a consolidated approach lacks:

  • Greater flexibility: In a large enterprise, different business units may tailor Jira in a multitude of ways. For instance, an HR department might use Jira Service Desk and a number of Atlassian Marketplace apps to provide an enterprise service management portal for the organisation. Where different departments need specific configurations or Atlassian Marketplace apps, it does not make sense to license Marketplace apps across the entire enterprise when only one business unit uses it. In addition, business units may want the flexibility of their own Jira colours and branding, data segregation, or customisation for other business requirements.
  • Mitigates operational risk: Large centralised instances require additional hardware scaling, take longer to upgrade and may have more impact in the event of an incident. Mitigating a large and monolithic central instance by having a federated model decreases operational risk, performance and load impact.
  • Enables public and private instances: Within Jira it is possible to make content exclusively accessible to identified groups through permission schemes and user groups. Many customers however (including Atlassian), prefer to run internal content on a separate instance inside the firewall. A dedicated instance is then set up to host external content, making it accessible to both customers and partners. It’s common to use Atlassian Cloud or hosted solutions in Azure or AWS for public Jira Service Desk and Confluence knowledge bases while having Jira Software development teams on their own dedicated instance potentially behind a firewall.
  • Meets compliance and legal limitations: Legal concerns such as data privacy laws, jurisdiction over servers or compliance, may lead to a decision to have dedicated servers in separate jurisdictions for specific Jira projects.

A hybrid solution is another approach to counteract the limitations of a consolidated model. In this model, a centralised instance is responsible for supporting the majority of workers, providing economies of scale, performance and the resilience that these users demand. Users with complex needs then run on federated instances which support their particular department or programme of work.

Whichever approach is used, organisations need to find the right balance of autonomy and control, yet still allow for innovation to help the business not only operate efficiently but also innovate and grow. They also need to understand which approach is best for their business, and they need the resources to efficiently manage their chosen environment.

Managed service solutions can help

With all this complexity companies may consider managed services as being out of reach, or that they would be forced into a one-size-fits-all straitjacket limiting innovation.  But in fact, today’s advanced managed solution providers offer flexible and value-add expertise that support all three models – whether that be consolidated, federated or hybrid environments – allowing organisations the freedom to manage their Jira estate how they want.

For example, with a managed service solution federated instances can take advantage of SaaS solutions such as our ClearHost and Atlassian Cloud to bring them into service quickly without over-burdening IT departments by employing short-term administration services. These can also include our Clearvision consultants and ClearHub contractors who can help configure the platform and provide ongoing strategic support. Training can also be provided covering the full software development lifecycle, collaboration strategies, project management and more. Whichever model you choose, our consultants and associates are on hand to work with you through the migration and beyond.

Balancing autonomy and control is the number one concern of growing businesses today. With a managed service solution you can now give this challenge your full attention rather than being constantly pulled away to build and operate all the underlying technology.

Gary Blower, Solutions Architect, Clearvision