Behind the scenes, technology is becoming increasingly complex as the cloud, artificial intelligence, extended reality, edge and many other emerging technologies come into the mainstream. For technology users, however, interfaces are becoming more and more intuitive. It’s almost inversely proportional: the more complex a technology becomes, the easier it becomes to use.
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.
This trend, which is discussed in Accenture’s 2021 Technology Vision report, promises to deliver significant value to businesses while also improving the employee experience. Imagine the possibilities of a world in which people can create a custom dashboard for a group’s finances, for example, or build an app to approve and automatically fulfill purchase orders, and all without having to ask the IT team for help.
Already, 88% of executives we surveyed in conjunction with the report believe technology democratization is becoming critical in their ability to ignite innovation across their organization.
In this environment, not only are problems solved faster, and by the people who are closest to them, but the IT team’s time is spared for where it can really add value: big implementations, scaling successful programs, and injecting the most cutting-edge technology into the business, for example.
Leapfrog the skills gap
Seizing on the opportunities of technology democratization has never been more important. Companies across a wide range of sectors are facing well documented skills gaps that could stunt growth, if it isn’t already.
To-date, solutions to the skills gap have mostly focused on training. And while this will remain an important requirement, the democratization of technology offers another approach. It’s a parallel strategy that will further close the disconnect between workforces and the technologies needed to deliver the most creative solutions in today’s market.
It also unlocks the full potential of every worker. When access to powerful technology capabilities extends throughout a company, at all levels, every person can become an active and vital part of the digital transformation effort. People can pick and choose for themselves what to automate, enabling them to focus on the things they do best. That means better outcomes for workers, customers and the business.
The activation of grassroots innovation
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.
The aim is to ensure that the people closest to customers and internal problems have everything they need to identify new solutions and opportunities and get them operational as fast as possible.
For this to work, employees must understand issues of data governance and security and be able to innovate in low-risk manner. There are relatively simply ways to achieve this. For instance, CommScope, a fiber optic manufacturer, developed a low- and no-code program with guardrails in place to help its people avoid accidental security risks.
Reinventing innovation: 3 key questions
Over time, the democratization of technology will challenge traditional notions of who “owns” technology, how technology strategy and planning is done, and the role of IT. As this happens, leaders have the opportunity to reimagine the intersection of technology and the organization – and to reinvent how their IT and non-IT employees work together.
Google has already done just that. Its workers can use new tools even if they’re not supported by the company – so long as the teams using them support the new stack themselves and mitigate any issues that might arise around effective collaboration.
Very soon, the pace of transformation in enterprises will no longer be limited to how quickly IT teams can roll out new solutions. Instead, empowered workers on the front lines of the business will become change makers and innovators in their own right.
If business leaders are to ensure their companies benefit from this innovation advantage in the years ahead, they need to address three core questions:
- Does my business have the capabilities needed to democratize IT?
- How can I train workers to think like technologists?
- How can democratized technologies make IT groups more effective – and vice versa?
Without answering these questions and taking steps to empower your people, you’ll be holding your own digital transformation back. Industries are adapting and transforming around you – grassroots innovation will help you keep up.