8. September 2021 By Dr. Manuela Schwarze
Democratisation of IT – the catalyst for innovation and value creation
It’s about more than just having the right materials to work with in the digital laboratory.
In my work with customers, technology partners and other associates during the ten-plus years I’ve spent in the tech sector, I’ve been able to learn that there are other important factors beyond technology, innovation and value creation. However, my career as a chemist continues to have a strong influence on me, so I’d like you to consider the following analogy. Think of business as a digital laboratory of sorts. To successfully produce a final product it comes down to the basic materials, catalysts, conditions under which the reaction occurs and, lest we forget, the skill of the chemist. Choosing the right technology is essential to producing added value and innovation. In a manner of speaking, it is the raw material and catalyst for the digital product. Having the right conditions under which the reaction can occur is, however, just as important. They determine what digital product, if any, comes out in the end, how fast and what type of output is generated – in our analogy, this would be the corporate culture and basic parameters.
So when we talk about the democratisation of IT, we should consider both the technological and cultural aspects.
Focus on basic materials and catalysts – paradigm shift in technology
Drivers: Internet, portals and cloud
Whereas at the beginning of the 1990s you still needed programming skills to set up a web server or a website, today anyone can create a web shop within a day and make their own products or services available to a worldwide market. In our private lives, Amazon is our department store, Spotify our record shop and Netflix our video store. The Internet as well as the availability of portals as a motor for the creation of new business models are the key conditions that enable even the layperson to become active on the web easily, quickly and at low cost to them as well as implement their ideas, business or otherwise.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular can benefit from cloud computing. Today, SMEs have low-cost access to the most advanced technologies, such as machine learning, and the ability to scale resources. Instead of creating an expensive infrastructure, storage capacity and applications are ‘leased’. In the past, this was the exclusive reserve of large companies which were able to manage correspondingly large data centres and employ specialist teams.
Digital platforms and citizenship
Similar to platforms we use in our private life, such as Facebook and co., digital platforms provided centrally by IT are driving the trend towards user ‘citizenship’. Citizenship is the empowerment of corporate users to implement their use cases on their own via the new, intuitive platforms. Anyone who has an idea has the opportunity to test it out quickly and systematically as well as discuss it with the team. This removes the obstacles involved with having to test and implement innovative ideas. Along with that, it reduces the limitations imposed by the user not having the necessary technological know-how.
A similar trend in digital transformations can be seen in the use of enterprise IT. The basic technologies needed for this would be things such as app development on low-code platforms or AI ‘democratisation’ thanks to machine learning. These technologies will redefine the existing IT value chains as well as require changes in organisations, processes and mindsets.
Rethink portfolio management
Have you experienced a situation like this: You create a PowerPoint slide to show how value can be added in an attempt to bring about a particular decision by management on an abstract level. Or maybe there’s an instance you remember where a great deal of time and effort is spent by the business units drafting specifications which are then translated into IT solutions by IT specialists in order to then implement a proof of concept (PoC).
If so, the processes and interfaces between business and IT are changing thanks to the use of modern, digital platforms. IT provides the technological foundation for this in the form of platforms and community management, users add their ideas and provide content and domain know-how in the form of apps, mixed teams can create MVPs (minimum viable products) within a few days using a low-code platform and sprints are reduced from two weeks to a few days. The platforms provided deliver basic functions, such as cybersecurity and/or clean interfaces. This way, business cases can be tested directly in the respective business context. On this basis, management can immediately understand the strategy and business value, assess the value creation and approve the budget and resources required for further development.
The IT team then enters the picture when the MVP is to be scaled further and carried over into regular business operations, back office systems need to be integrated or there are even more complex requirements.
Focus on reaction conditions – culture and mindset
Perspectives, further development opportunities and a sense of meaning instead of career or higher salary
Indeed surveyed employees in Germany in 2020 to determine factors that play an important role in their work. A key finding of the study shows that German employees don’t want to work for a company they aren’t passionate about. Enjoying their work (90 per cent) is more important to employees in Germany than receiving a higher salary. Two thirds (64 per cent) would like a job that gives them room to pursue personal goals, enables them to seek self-actualisation and provides further training opportunities. ‘Making a career’ is primarily understood to mean individual career development in which one regularly acquires new knowledge or qualifications. In this context, the opportunities to shape and play an active role at the company are becoming increasingly important – and not only in the context of digitalisation.
Playing an active role is only possible in a corporate culture that promotes boldness and curiosity and embraces a positive culture of mistakes, giving employees the courage to experiment instead of giving in to the idea of failure. Intrinsic motivation combined with technological opportunities are the catalyst for new (business) ideas, innovation and value creation.
The democratisation of IT creates the opportunity to meet the need that employees have to play an active role and develop their professional skills.
Business and IT team up
It’s fun to see results quickly. It motivates and releases a lot of creative energy. As business colleagues gain more experience using the low-code platform, MVPs are being created with increasing frequency, often without IT having to do anything. A similar development is also taking place in the AI and machine learning space. Until now, anyone who had an idea for a machine learning application and wanted to test it out had to fight hard to secure the services of one of the highly sought-after data scientists, set up the corresponding infrastructure and ensure data integration. In other words, it had been a time-consuming, often nerve-wracking undertaking in which innovation and value creation many times fell by the wayside.
As a general rule, every employee should have a basic understanding of and access to modern technologies in order to reduce any initial misgivings or hesitation they may have to a minimum. Truly novel ideas only emerge from a highly diverse environment and by taking a playful approach towards one’s business.
The role of IT remains central to interdepartmental cooperation because IT specialists provide the departments with digital platforms, ready-to-use design templates, connectors and app creation assistants and coordinate work with the relevant teams. Therefore, responsibility for the creation, further development and active provisioning of digital solutions in the form of enterprise apps still ultimately lies with the IT department. As a result, IT can go from being a cost generator to an enabler of value creation.
IT and business come together to form a value creation system in which the democratisation of technology is shifting the areas of responsibility and new processes and organisational structures are emerging. At the same time, there is an opportunity for a new culture of cooperation. As our analogy of the digital laboratory shows, if all the components (reactants, catalysts and reaction conditions) are perfectly matched and the lab technician is free to develop ideas, the reaction will produce the desired results – just like the digital transformation process at a company.
Would you like to learn more about exciting topics from the world of adesso? Then check out our latest posts.