Time to teach people to think like technologists - Michelle Hawkins

Behind the scenes, technology is becoming increasingly complex as the cloud, AI, extended reality, edge and many others 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.

Accenture’s 2021 Technology Vision report

The great democratisation 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 optimise 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 fulfil purchase orders, and all without having to ask the IT team for help. Already, 88 per cebt of executives we surveyed in conjunction with the report believe technology democratisation is becoming critical in their ability to ignite innovation across their organisation.

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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.

Yet, while seizing on the opportunities of technology democratisation 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 democratisation of technology offers another approach. It’s time to teach people to think like technologists.

In essence, technology democratisation is the enablement of grassroots innovation. Simple to use technology is a necessary condition for this type of innovation, but it’s not sufficient. As many Scottish tech leaders have encouraged, it is also necessary to teach our school-age students, our graduates and our colleagues to have a deeper understanding of the problem-solving capabilities of technologies.

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.

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 also understand issues of data governance and security and be able to innovate in low-risk manner. To assist, there are already relatively simply ways to achieve this, including programmes with guardrails in place to help people avoid accidental security risks.

Over time, this democratisation 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 organisation – and to reinvent how their IT and non-IT employees work together.

Going forward there are three core questions to address: Does the business have the capabilities needed to democratise IT? How can the business train its workforce to think like technologists and how can democratised technologies make IT groups more effective, and vice versa?

If successful, very soon, the pace of transformation in any business will no longer be limited to how quickly IT teams can roll out new solutions. Instead, empowered colleagues on the front lines of the business will become change makers and innovators in their own right.

Michelle Hawkins is managing director for Accenture in Scotland

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