What democratisation really means for IT leaders.
A recent Gartner survey1 found that 10% of staff in enterprise organisations are within the IT department, yet 41% of the organisation fall into the remit of “business technologists” who provision and create tech capabilities as part of their role, but sit outside the IT function. The need for adaptability and availability of technology has become more apparent, as the traditional model was perceived as slow and difficult to change. The reality now is that the design and execution of technology is broadly distributed across an organisation, often not involving the IT team in decision making at all. The demand for increased agility from an increasingly tech-savvy workforce means that the IT team are no longer the sole ‘gatekeepers’ to the technology of the organisation.
Technology democratisation, defined by Gartner as “easy access to technical or business expertise without long and expensive learning”, is a natural byproduct of the rapid growth in cloud adoption and of the cloud-native SaaS marketplace that makes technologies so easily consumable. These self-service technologies are easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card, purchased without the knowledge or permission of the IT team. This has had a huge impact on how technology is provisioned within organisations; moving away from traditionally centralised teams, with multi-year planned IT capex giving way to de-centralised (often uncontrolled) procurement to meet the self-defined technology needs of end-users. So, as technologies have become more usable to the average consumer, new conversations and processes must emerge to meet changing user demands.
Does this mean IT have lost control of digital?
While IT professionals are seeing the benefits to the distribution of tech skills and responsibility across the organisation (why build a CRM when you can buy one?), democratisation removes the ability for them to have complete oversight of what tech is being used in the business. This inability to monitor the entire IT estate could mean the business is not being served efficiently – and could mean more work (and cost) for the IT team.
There are also risks to resilience and security, as this sprawling application landscape increases organisations’ risk surfaces. Application sprawl is not new but it has taken on new urgency, as organisations are operating and creating more applications than ever. A recent study by Productiv found that 58% of IT leaders say compliance is a concern, followed closely by cost, with 57% citing the latter as a major concern. It is therefore important for the organisation to have a bird’s eye view of its entire estate to ensure its architecture meets the needs of the business as it evolves, rather than having a sprawl of applications that are not managed by or, even worse, that are not known to IT.
Composability - the future of democratisation
Clarity around the deployment of applications in all of an organisations’ environments enables organisations to operate more efficiently and to move towards composability. This means thinking of technologies and the skills required to develop and operate them as ‘packaged business capabilities’. Exploiting these capabilities requires teams with cross-functional skills and the use and reuse of technologies in different contexts, all with the goal of meeting business needs.
In the traditional approach, IT teams had sole focus as a service provider to the business, with little time to focus on innovation. However, the move towards composability brings IT into the role of service provider for the business - IT, business technologists and digital teams working together to innovate and drive growth. The distinction between ‘old-guard IT’ and ‘brave new world digital’ needs to end - both are essential to the successful development and delivery of technology to, and by, businesses.
Creating a composable organisation
The key to success with composability is balancing autonomy with control, allowing teams the freedom to work towards business goals and select technologies which meet their needs whilst also maintaining the overall availability, security and resilience of this hybrid technology estate. To deliver on composability, and reap the benefits of democratisation, IT leaders need to take a top-down, application-centric approach rather than one rooted in infrastructure. In 2021, Gartner announced a new category of tooling, which they’re calling Digital Platform Conductors. DPCs are tools which can manage any application in any environment throughout its lifecycle, providing a coherent and actionable view of an enterprises’ entire technology estate. Gartner identified this class of tool would be critical to meeting IT leaders’ “need to enable workloads to flow to the right environments at the right time to meet business needs with minimal costs and risks” (Roger Williams, Gartner).
Beyond technologies, there are other competencies required for democratised organisation: collaboration, communication and connection. Accelerated democratisation of technology and digitalisation in recent years has only enhanced the need to connect cross-functionally:
56% of IT staff reported more collaboration with business technologists in 2021, and continuing these efforts drives real value. By 2024 80% of CIOs surveyed for Gartner’s 2021 Strategic Tech Trends will list composability as a top 5 reason for accelerated business performance.
Rather than sidelining the skills of IT teams, democratisation through composability allows IT to assert its role as a critical business enabler. By reaching out and working with cross-functional teams to create a new business architecture that is composable, reusable, efficient and resilient, the trend towards democratisation provides IT with new ways to create value.
A version of this article first appeared in Data Center Review on 11th January 2022.
1 - From Gartner’s 2021 Reimagining Technology Work Survey, combined with the 2020 Gartner Digital Friction Survey.