Branch office management is one of the largest challenges IT staffs face, simply because of the fact that they\u2019re geographically dispersed.So it\u2019s important for IT executives to determine the best organizational structure to best manage branch locations.In a recent benchmark, we asked 90 IT executives how they manage their branch offices and found they relied on one of three organizational structures, or a combination of them: centralized IT staff, distributed IT staff, and service providers.The most commonly adopted strategy is centralized, often with service providers also playing a role. The results are as follows:* Centralized - 44.93%* Combination Central & Distributed IT staff - 15.94%* Combination Central IT staff & service providers - 15.94%* Distributed IT staff - 11.59%* Service provider - 7.25%* Distributed IT staff with service provider - 4.35%What stands out the most is that nearly 45% of respondents manage their branch offices exclusively from a central location. Another 16% manage centrally but also rely on a service provider to handle troubleshooting when they cannot resolve the problem from central command.In both scenarios, they implement probes or other remote-management and monitoring tools at the branch offices, and handle updates and troubleshooting from a central site - usually headquarters.Among those 45%, more than half (59%) are organizations with annual revenue that is less than $500 million. The median number of locations among all organizations that manage centrally is 75 with 4,000 employees.What tends to happen is that as organizations get larger and have more locations, it becomes more difficult to manage everything from a central location.Some companies do as much as they can from a central location, and then partner with a service provider or systems integrator to handle trouble calls. Among those who adopt this approach, 67% have annual revenue in excess of $1 billion.Open source management and monitoring tools are helping many of the smaller organizations afford to manage their remote sites. \u201cWe have one system administrator supporting a $150-million organization,\u201d says the CIO of a healthcare company. \u201cThat\u2019s thanks to open source.\u201dThat central management, however, doesn\u2019t negate the need for site visits once in a while. One CIO of a university says his staff manages branch locations centrally, but drives to remove sites two to three times a quarter. At the same time, several IT executives say they have invested in tools that have prevented truck-rolls or staff visits to remove locations.\u201cWe use a remote-desktop tool that can be accessed by IP or dial-up. Each unit has paid for itself in less than one year,\u201d says the vice president\u00a0of communications for a professional-services company.Next week, I\u2019ll cover trends with other types of branch office management.