IT Democratization: A 2023 Expert Guide for Your Business

IT democratization is a growing trend that empowers non-technical employees to build digital solutions. This guide will explore how it works, key benefits and risks, and expert advice to succeed with "citizen development" in your organization.

What is IT Democratization and Why Does it Matter?

IT democratization involves providing intuitive software tools that enable non-programmers to develop their own applications, bots, analytics models, and other solutions.

Instead of waiting for backlogged IT requests, business teams can take their digital needs into their own hands. Enabling technologies include:

  • Low-code/no-code platforms: Empower rapid app development using visual, drag-and-drop interfaces instead of traditional coding. Leading options include Appian, OutSystems, Mendix, and Zoho Creator.
  • Robotic process automation (RPA): Tools like UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Microsoft Power Automate allow users to automate repetitive tasks via simple record-and-playback interfaces.
  • Citizen data science: Solutions like DataRobot and H2O Driverless AI enable non-data scientists to analyze data and build models using intuitive menus instead of programming.
  • Knowledge platforms: Vendors provide free access to documentation, tutorials, forums and expert communities that allow users to self-educate.

The priority for most organizations is now on how to effectively leverage these tools to maximize business benefits, while managing risks.

According to Gartner, worldwide low-code development technologies are projected to grow 22.6% to $29.9 billion in 2022. RPA software spending is forecast to reach $2.4 billion.

Driven by digital acceleration, 65% of development activity will be via low-code platforms by 2024. IT democratization is becoming vital for competitive agility.

Key Business Benefits of IT Democratization

Several compelling benefits are driving rapid adoption across industries like financial services, healthcare, retail, and more:

1. Lower Solution Development Costs

Instead of large IT project teams, solutions can be built by business users with little to no technical expertise. This can reduce the cost to design, develop, test and deploy new apps, bots and models by over 50%, per Mendix.

2. Increased Productivity

Automating repetitive human work via RPA and digitizing workflows with low-code applications boosts productivity dramatically. Per UI Path, most companies achieve 70-90% automation of target processes.

3. Faster Adaptation to Business Needs

IT project backlogs and long development cycles make it hard to adapt quickly. With IT democratization, local teams can build what they need rapidly, without waiting months or years.

4. More Data-Driven Decisions

Empowering business users with self-service data analytics and no-code machine learning lets them tailor models to their context and make decisions backed by data.

5. Improved Employee Engagement

Giving teams the power to solve their own problems provides a sense of ownership and control. Subject matter experts can translate their domain expertise into impactful applications.

However, there are also risks associated with decentralized technology capabilities that must be proactively managed.

Key Challenges of IT Democratization

While democratizing technology access has clear benefits, it poses challenges including:

1. Unrealistic Assessment of Tool Capabilities

No code tools

No-code tools still have limitations compared to custom IT solutions. Image credit: Austin Distel on Unsplash

Low-code/no-code platforms can still face scalability and integration limitations compared to custom IT solutions. Understanding their capabilities and when IT involvement is still required is critical.

2. Lack of Governance and Support

Allowing decentralized solution development can breed redundant or outdated applications, integration headaches, data issues, and lack of long-term maintenance when creators leave the company. Providing governance, training, and operational support is vital for citizen developers.

3. Security and Compliance Risks

Business users typically lack the regulatory, privacy, and cybersecurity expertise of IT teams. Their solutions must be vetted to avoid compliance failures or exposing sensitive data.

4. Vendor Lock-In

Many no-code platforms generate proprietary code that cannot be easily migrated between vendors. This can create excessive reliance on a single tech provider.

Democratizing technology requires balancing empowerment with appropriate oversight like any transformative trend.

How to Succeed with IT Democratization

Based on leading practices, here are expert tips to maximize the business value of citizen development while minimizing risk:

Start Small, Prove Value

  • Begin with smaller projects that clearly address pain points vs. tackling tricky enterprise challenges right away.
  • Gather metrics and feedback to build the case for broader adoption.

Assess and Select Platforms Carefully

  • Take time to thoroughly evaluate leading tools for the capabilities you need now and in the future.
  • Ensure adequate built-in governance features are available.
  • Prototype with 2-3 options before committing long term.

Institute Policies and Standards Upfront

  • Define policies for security, compliance, testing, documentation, maintenance, and support early.
  • Create technology standards to prevent fragmented systems.
  • Automate governance controls like role-based access into solutions where possible.

Provide Extensive Training

  • Recognize that productivity tools still require ramp up time and expert guidance.
  • Make training readily available for user groups and key processes.
  • Foster peer networking and collaboration through communities.

Monitor Adoption Closely

  • Watch for redundant apps and integration issues caused by siloed development.
  • Retire or merge solutions as needed to optimize your digital ecosystem.
  • Have IT provide tier 2/3 support SLAs to citizen development teams.

Evolve Cultural Mindsets

  • Shift from "command and control" IT-centric thinking to genuine collaboration.
  • Help IT embrace an enablement role vs. an enforcement role.
  • Incentivize sharing between functional teams vs. hoarding.

The Future of Technology Democratization

While still evolving, empowering more users to take advantage of digital capabilities is an essential trend. IT democratization will continue expanding across solution types and industries as tools mature.

The real opportunity is combining broad technology access with specialized domain expertise and creativity. Developing both the technical and human capabilities to harness democratization for business innovation is the key imperative for leaders today.

How will your organization leverage citizen development capabilities to their full potential in 2024 and beyond? With careful adoption, IT democratization can unlock significant competitive advantage.

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