As financial services firms plan for 2022, it is best to look back at the trends and experiences of 2021 and to use what we have learned to inform our strategic decisions. Much has changed in the past two decades, including how we view and use technology. At the Fall
The last 20 years in IT has seen a paradigm shift away from a broad role that encompassed everything from managing hardware to managing passwords. IT was the center of the universe; everything needed to go through IT. However, end users are increasingly demanding self-service options to access, view, and report on data in the ways that makes the most sense to them. The proliferation of technology that puts that power in their hands is a good thing for everyone. This concept is called “democratization of technology”—giving the skills to parse through data to the end users, empowering them to create a story with the data using the technology available in several ways, including:
- Enabling employees to work with “pools” of data they need to do their jobs while ensuring proper controls are in place
- Moving as many processes and workflows as possible onto cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon, or Google, depending on the process, ensuring the interaction is as user friendly and effective as possible
- Taking the chaotic flow of requests from across the company and organizing them into messaging and queues that can then be directed
- Creating fully transparent and trackable systems using, and better integrating, applications they already have in place, including CRM and ERP
The desire for technology democratization had been developing for some time, but the COVID pandemic accelerated the process. Covid restrictions compelled many internal clients to use the technology themselves. This led to them becoming more familiar with it, resulting in a significant growth in adoption.
The pandemic has caused many firms to more fully utilize resources that they possessed but had not been taking advantage of. How many firms had given laptops to their employees, but those laptops never left the desk? The way we work changed markedly, but IT did not change the way it operates or its relationship with end users.
Remote work eventually became the norm, which put major pressure on IT. One SME Forum member reported that his team was being inundated by a variety of requests, everything from passwords for applications to reports that weren’t working properly. It did not take long before end users were able to figure out many of these problems on their own—even some of the more complex ones—rather than turning to tech support.
Today’s IT leadership must encourage and support this trend. They must find ways to bring technology to the forefront, providing and supporting tools and processes that deliver high value as quickly as possible.
The challenge lies in understanding and meeting users at their current level. Yes, the power of the end user has grown considerably over the last few decades, but everyone is not equally comfortable with the technology.. Some departments or teams might be fully immersed, while others are still intimidated. Those that are apprehensive might require some hand holding to get past their understandable fear of “breaking” something, but there is a new generation that is looking for the capacity to build. Regardless of age, industry, or level of experience, this group is demanding access to tools and platforms that allow them to go beyond reporting or analytics and start producing that capacity themselves.
Democratization of technology must encourage while ensuring controls are in place
To meet this demand without causing chaos, IT leadership will need to provide a governance framework with at least some level of standardization. At the same time, they must encourage hesitant users to not be afraid and even allow those who are interested to “tinker” with the technology, while offering guidance to support them.
If this is to be successful, however, IT must reassure users that making mistakes is part of the process. Those who view “failure” adversely need to change their approach. When someone fails, ask the question , “What did you learn, and how can we improve on this?” The motto should be: Fail often and fail fast.
Users who are ready should be welcomed into the conception and development of solutions that will serve them. This will lead to a more cohesive collaboration between the business line and IT and better chances for success.
Democratization of technology creates new opportunities
This is a very exciting time; IT should embrace shifting its responsibilities towards facilitating this type of capability for end users.. It would be far easier for the end users to have the skills and technology to set up their own search queries, rather than have IT be the middleman.
This would save time and frustration for both IT and the user. Eventually, as users grow more comfortable with a particular tool, they will begin to see more possibilities on how to visualize data and make it actionable, building their local solutions on their own within a managed infrastructure or ecosystem.
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