Democratisation of technology: Yes, there is something new under the sun

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Democratisation of technology: Yes, there is something new under the sun

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 the “democratisation” 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 democratisation of technology is different

The democratisation of technology (DoT) 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 democratised 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 authorised 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.

The three pillars of DoT

It was wrong to scoff at business-led IT back then. And not because the business was ready to service its own business needs. But because businesses felt in control and weren’t seeing that business needs are of paramount importance. Employees weren't thinking of us as a service provider for the business. DoT provides an opportunity for both IT and business to rethink that crucial relationship.

This was republished with permission from the Gartner Blog Network. 

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