I’ll admit it. When I was a youngster in corporate IT (a few decades ago) we used to snicker at the shadow IT efforts of workers on the business side. They would show off an Access database application or new Excel report and, inevitably, we’d find something wrong with it. Or they’d need our help a few months later. We would help – and deliver a stern lecture on the importance of IT as a profession.
Much is now being said about “democratization” of technology. But has anything really changed or is it just a new name for an old, shadow IT problem with the same old solutions (solutions such as executive agreement on governance between IT and the business on what they’re allowed to do and the approval process)?
Why Democratization of Technology is Different
I do think Democratization of Technology is different for the following reasons:
- Cloud and SaaS eliminated the installation and much of the break-fix support we used to do. There’s still some, but much less. And the subscription model that generally accompanies SaaS fits the purchasing model of business units better than large, lump sum payments.
- Users are much more technically savvy than 20 years ago. Especially the top quarter of them that initiate most democratized efforts.
- Applications are much easier to use. Full week training courses for new applications were common back then. Now drag-and-drop workflow creators, free training videos, contextual assistance, and consumer-influenced interfaces require less expertise to do the same work. Users can accomplish tasks well beyond self-service tasks such as updating their address in an HR system.
- The speed of business is much higher than 20 years ago. This requires streamlined and accelerated product cycles.
DoT doesn’t just mean shadow IT coming out of the shadows. That is part of it, but also consider authority moving down the org chart within a business unit. Some insurance providers and real estate agents used to be required to use professional photographers to take and submit photos. Now even non-technical agents have the basic photo skills necessary given the technology in smartphones. Accordingly, their management has authorized them to do this task themselves. The combination of 1) more skilled non-expert workers, 2) easier to use technology, and 3) governance changes is what makes DoT tick. The feedback loop between these three components is what has driven DoT to a strategic – rather than tactical or accidental – level.
I now think I was wrong to scoff at business-led IT back then. And not because the business was ready to service their own business needs. But because I felt I was in control and wasn’t seeing that business needs are of paramount importance. I wasn’t thinking of us as a service provider for the business. DoT provides an opportunity for both the IT and business to rethink that crucial relationship.
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Cant wait when old people from our generation will laugh at kids not knowing how to use obscure, obsolete programs /s
The great democratization of technology is being driven by an array of enablers including natural language processing (NLP), low-code platforms, robotic process automation (RPA) and others. These tools are not only removing the friction of using technology, but also allowing people to optimize their work or fix pain points on their own.
In essence, technology democratization is the enablement of grassroots innovation. Simple-to-use technology is a necessary condition for this type of innovation, but it’s not sufficient. It is also necessary to teach your people to think like technologists.
Fundamentally, employees will need to learn what tools are at their disposal and how and when to best deploy them. But more than that, businesses also need to invest in employees’ overall technology literacy: helping them understand the logic of machines, the benefits and risks to different decisions, and how to see technology not just as a tool, but as a solution.
@Bodrum: Good points! I agree there are many technologies intertwined in this (whether they are a result or driver of DoT is hard to say). Better web-based interfaces were a big step forward. And AI/ML may help in the future.
And I like your point about workers needing to embrace this as well. I’ve noted a difference between those workers that see taking on more tech tasks as “part of my job” vs “gets in the way of me doing my job”. The former will be much more successful going forward.
Thanks for your insightful comments.