In business, we all understand the concept of having to do more with less. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall a professional working environment where this wasn’t a prime directive.
Fortunately, new technologies have always stepped in giving us the ability to truly deliver more with less. One of these newest technologies, in the world of information management, is called a Low-Code Application Platform or LCAP. An LCAP is a toolkit that enables non-developers to rapidly build and deploy unique applications to solve information problems and fill data gaps within their businesses ... all without having to write a single line of code. Our LCAP is called 123Go.
But it’s not just new technologies that help us do more. It’s also finding new, creative ways to work that help as well. As low-code development begins to take hold, we need to get creative and change the traditional development landscape a bit. One of the ways to do this is incorporating a concept called 'The Democratization of IT’.
I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing French Williams, Director of IT at Royal Technologies and thought leader on 'The Democratization of IT’. Royal Technologies is a world-class manufacturer in the automotive, furniture, and consumer goods industries.
Here’s what French had to say …
Q: Hi French, how long have you been in the IT sector?
French: “Wow hard question, let me do the mental math quickly … 23 years.”
Q: How would you best define the Democratization of IT?
French: “It is empowering business professionals outside of traditional IT to solve business problems through technology.”
Q: A term being used to describe these business professionals is “citizen developer”, have you heard of other labels being used to describe this new role?
French: “I have not, and I hesitate to use the term citizen developer. In my mind, if I’m a businessperson and I hear citizen developer, I get instantly intimidated and think ‘that couldn’t be me, I’m not a developer.’”
Q: Internally at 123Go we use the term “deputy developer” to describe that role, is that a better description?
French: “I like that, I like the word deputy. That’s a good description.”
Q: Is there a less intimidating term to use instead of developer?
French: “Well for me it’s more about innovation. You want to improve a process. You want to do something differently and leverage technology. Although, in my mind, it’s less about the technology and more about the business change so I’m going to say ‘Deputy Innovator’. Typically, people use IT to improve and innovate around business processes and you want somebody to be able to do that. But understanding that they probably don’t have the same skill set someone in IT has. If I’m a business end user, I may latch onto being an innovator as opposed to a developer. It’s like ‘Hey, I want to make things around me better and I want to innovate in my space’. I like Deputy Innovator.”
Q: We see a business analyst type role as someone outside of IT who would be a great candidate for a Deputy Innovator, would you agree?
Q: How new is the concept of the Democratization of IT to you and your organization?
French: “We’ve only been batting it around for the last two or three years here at Royal. And the reason is, just like most IT departments, we are being asked to do more and more with less and less. We see ourselves becoming a bottleneck to a lot of business process innovation that could be happening and there’s a gap there. We know we’ve got some skill sets in the organization that could fill those gaps, we just don’t have good tools for them to do that. Typically, an IT organization provides an ERP system that handles most of the large processes and workflows, but it can’t handle everything. The result is you get a few spreadsheet jockeys that fill those gaps with really advanced macros. The problem is spreadsheets can’t scale. Also, IT doesn’t like it because we don’t have any visibility to all the macros that are getting written along with all these convoluted business processes that are getting designed around spreadsheets. That’s where we see a tool like 123Go filling those gaps and providing IT visibility to what’s being developed. At the same time, giving the people on the business side a platform that’s low code, scalable and something IT can integrate into if we need to.
Q: Can we talk about what The Democratization of IT is NOT?
French: “Sure, that’s a great question and immediately what comes to mind is it’s NOT making your everyday businessperson a full-on IT developer. It’s definitely not that. It’s really more about providing people, within the business, the tools to make improvements using low code, easy to use technology that they just don’t have today. Along with providing some visibility and controls from the IT department. Because what you don’t want to have is for these people to start using these tools to replace your ERP systems functionality as an example. We’ve had that happen here at Royal. Somebody wrote an amazing macro filled spreadsheet that replaced our ERPs shipping process and one day, we got a panicked call because the spreadsheet stopped working. We had no idea it even existed and the poor new guy running the shipping desk didn’t know how to do the process in our ERP system. So, it’s important to put some fences around what people are doing. Plus, having visibility into the platform would be an enormous improvement over where we are with spreadsheets today.
Q: What are the benefits of this concept to the business?
French: “From a business perspective you are able to innovate on new processes much faster without the bottleneck of IT. That’s where the business benefit is fully realized. You can create workflows and leverage the data from those workflows for other improvements and, at that point, the opportunities are endless.
Q: Switching gears a little bit, what challenges might some groups face with The Democratization of IT?
French: “I think identification and organization. You don’t want to just say, ‘hey everyone can do this right now’. In my mind, as an organization, you’ve got to identify those individuals who are business professionals, but they have those business analyst tendencies that you can leverage and empower. You ‘deputize’ those key individuals within business functions to empower with tools, otherwise you’re going to end up with way too much activity that’s uncontrolled.
Q: If identifying the right people is step one, is there a logical step two?
French: “Choosing the right tool, hopefully it’s 123Go. You’ve got to make sure they get proper training, so they are fully empowered to start leveraging the tool.
Q: At 123Go we try to do things in threes, is there a third step?
French: “In my mind it’s finding and solving one very simple problem with the tool. You basically have to write one app that solves something simple. Prove it once and build from there.”
Q: As we continue to educate people on the power of low code, not just the tools, but this concept of being able to share the work, is there any other benefits to include?
French: “From an IT perspective, the way 123Go is structured, having it hosted on AWS and being a cloud-based platform really provides comfort and is one less thing IT would have to worry about. IT can empower these people to have a tool to solve problems and we don’t have to worry about provisioning servers, hard drive space and everything else to support this process as it grows and matures. It just happens naturally behind the scenes and that’s just another benefit. I think before the cloud really took off, these opportunities just weren’t there as there was always an impact to IT. Having it cloud based, software as a service, is just one more burden to remove from IT’s shoulders.
Q: We want to keep this short and sweet so any last comments on The Democratization of IT?
French: “Nope, I think we've covered the basics.”
The Democratization of IT and low-code technology go hand and hand to meet the challenges of doing more with less. Actually, we're trying to redefine that phrase. It’s not more with less, it’s getting far more value out of what you already have.
One Last Thought ... imagine layering low-code and the democratization of IT into Agile ... I'm thinking trifecta! I'll be back with more.
Please visit us a 123Go.io to find out more about how our LCAP can empower your people to bring more value to your business.
A BIG thank you to French Williams for his time and expertise! Please visit Royal Technologies to find out more about their business as they lead the way in the Democratization of IT.