Too often IT departments or technologists work to uncover the needs of the organisation in silos, building or buying a new tool, rolling it out and training business units on the new technology, writes Willie Schoeman, Managing Director for Accenture Technology in Africa.

With technology democratisation, everyone can be an innovator. It adds a grassroots layer previously missing from enterprise innovation. The tools of democratisation are the spark to ignite transformation, and people across the organisation will sustain it.

However, it’s not just about giving people access to new tools; companies must actively teach their people to think like technologists. By empowering everyone, those closest to a problem can be the ones to create solutions. This is one of the identified trends in our Accenture Technology Vision 2021 report – I, Technologist.

Fortify: Bypass the skills gap

For years, many enterprises have had great ambitions for their digital transformations, but struggled to recruit and keep the highly technical workers needed to bring those plans to life. In 2019 an all-time high of 67% of organisations reported facing a skills shortage and falling behind the pace of change. The demand for rapid digitisation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to push those numbers even higher, and companies may have been looking at this problem too narrowly.

Even as specialised technical skills remain in high demand, enterprises can increasingly lean on technology democratisation to circumvent the skills gap in some areas. 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.

With the massive shift to cloud underway, tools for technology democratisation are more readily available. Amazon’s Honeycode, for instance, is an AWS service that lets people build mobile and web apps without writing a single line of code, and for the many organisations migrating their people to Microsoft Teams, Power Apps can be directly embedded. These tools, and many others, offer an incredible opportunity to bridge the gap between complex technology and workers at every level of the organisation.

Extend: Activate grassroots transformation

Businesses are already using the tools of democratisation to speed up development and enable greater agility in one-off or limited instances. However, the investment needed to fully capitalise on this trend doesn’t end with the tools themselves. Activating a grassroots layer to your digital transformation requires investment in your people. You don’t need to teach them how to become expert coders, but you do need to train them to think like technologists.

For most organisations, this means a two-pronged strategy. At a basic level, employees will need to learn what tools are at their disposal, and how and when to best deploy them. More importantly, enterprises need to invest in employees’ overall technology literacy. People should understand the logic of machines, benefits and risks to different decisions, and see technology not just as a tool, but as a solution.

When the workers closest to customers, clients, or internal problems have the context to identify new opportunities and experiment with solutions, they will be able to deliver more customised responses and offerings, with greater agility than ever.

Accenture’s Technology Quotient (TQ) program is a global learning initiative to help employees across the firm raise their “TQ” through training and competitions. The program helps employees understand and articulate important technology concepts as well as their business value and applications. It covers everything from mature strategies like DevOps and cloud to more cutting-edge technologies like blockchain and AI, and is built for any role or skill level with the intent to have every employee become conversant in technology and see technology as part of the solution to the most pressing client needs.

Reinvent: power your new innovation engine

The value of technology democratisation and wide-scale technology training will only grow over time. As it does, it will challenge the typical notions of who “owns” technology in the company, how technology strategy and planning is done, and the role of IT at large. Right now, while the capabilities of democratised technology continue to grow, leaders have a chance to reimagine the intersection of technology and the organisation – and ultimately to reinvent how their IT and non-IT employees work together.

Google recognised the value in providing freedom to the people closest to the work in question, so rather than create policies about what technology not to use, they prioritised developing a more inclusive framework for how workers can choose their own technical stack. This is not free reign to use whatever whenever but employees are able to use new technology tools if they have a strong business need.

Questions to ask on the journey to democratising your technology

1.Is your enterprise poised to take advantage of technology’s growing democratisation? Pick one area of the enterprise to begin experimenting with technology democratising solutions. Evaluate your existing access, and identify what tools the enterprise may already have access to, or what additional investments need to be made, to power grassroots innovation.

2.How are you training your workforce to think like technologists? Invest in technology literacy and training programs across your organisation, and educate employees on the technologies available to them, as well as how to use them to design solutions. Leverage self-selection and AI to find any hidden aptitudes. Be sure to teach employees the costs of scaling and maintaining solutions, how security gaps create enterprise risk, and how to avoid creating institutional friction like incompatibility and data silos.

3.How can democratised technologies make IT groups more effective – and vice versa? Establish teams to support and guide the use of democratised technologies across your organisation. Update IT policies to give employees the flexibility to explore the use of new technologies, while maintaining IT’s role to establish guardrails. Try using technologies like low-code to bridge the gap between the business and technical sides of your organisation during prototyping and design stages.

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