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The Role of IT: Embrace Democratization of Technology

Tom Berger
01 Mar, 2022

As financial services firms plan for the future, we inevitably look back at trends as well as what we learned and experienced in the past to inform our strategic decisions. It seems everything changed to some extent, including how we view and use technology. At the Fall SME Forum in Boston, the CTO of one of the world’s largest asset managers and a client of HSO’s led a Fireside Chat on the Democratization of Technology, where he discussed the evolution of how end users interact with technology and the resulting change in IT’s role.

IT has gone through a paradigm shift in the last 20 years, from a broad role that encompassed everything from “fixing wires” to managing passwords. Today, IT is no longer the center of the data universe, which is a good thing; technology that puts that power in the hands of the end user has proliferated, reflecting their demand for self-service options to access, view, and report on data in a way that makes most sense to them.

This is the concept called “democratization of technology”—ensuring the skills to parse through data are in the hands of 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 like 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 organization 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 technology democratization concept has been smoldering for some years now. But, as with so many other things, COVID poured fuel on that particular fire. There are many stories about how, by virtue of the pandemic, internal clients were compelled to use technology and thus became more engaged with it. This change caused a feedback loop that resulted in significant growth in adoption.

The pandemic caused many firms to recognize and put into action the capabilities they’ve had for years but had not really taken advantage of. How many firms gave out laptops to employees, but those laptops have never left the desk? We changed the way we work in a major way, but IT didn’t change the way it operates nor its relationship with end users.

The COVID experience, where remote work became the norm, at first put major pressure on IT. One SME Forum member reported that his team was being inundated by a variety of requests, from simple ones like passwords for applications to more complex issues like reports that weren’t working properly. It wasn’t long before end users started figuring out much of these problems on their own—even some of the more complex ones—rather than turning to tech support.

The goal of today’s IT leadership must be to encourage that trend and support it. They must find ways to bring technology to the forefront, providing and supporting tools and processes that deliver high value as quickly as possible.

But the challenge lies in understanding and meeting users where they are. Yes, the power of the end user has grown exponentially over the last few decades, everyone is not on the same page yet. Some departments or teams might be fully immersed, while others are still intimidated by technology. While some will require some hand holding to get past their understandable fear of “breaking” something, 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–either building or participating in the building of these tools and platforms.

Technology democratization requires a balance between governance and encouragement

To meet this demand without causing chaos, IT leadership needs to provide a governance framework with at least some level of standardization while at the same time encouraging users to be brave and try—even to the point of letting those who are interested “tinker” with technology—along with guidance to support them.

However, for this to work, IT must reassure users that making mistakes is part of the process. Those who use “fail” as negative term need to change their approach. If someone fails, the question should be, “What did you learn, and how can we improve on this?” The motto should be: Fail often and fail fast.

IT can even go as far as introducing those who are ready into the conception and development of solutions that will serve them. The more cohesive the collaboration between the business line and IT, the better chances for a success.

Embrace democratization of technology to open new doors

IT’s responsibilities are shifting towards facilitating this type of capability for end users, which is very exciting and should be embraced by IT. As a simple example, think about how much easier it would be for an end user to have the skills and technology to set up their own search queries. They know what they need, so why should IT be the middleman?

Think of the time and frustration it would save both IT and the user, and then consider that, as users get comfortable with a particular tool, they will start seeing more possibilities on how to visualize data and make it actionable, building their local solutions on their own within a managed infrastructure or ecosystem.

To see how we have helped financial services firms like this one with their transformation goals, watch this brief demonstration of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Service for Onboarding and Case Management:

Video: Dynamics 365 for Asset Management Onboarding, Case Management, and Use Cases

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Read more about the democratization of data and HSO's Asset Management solutions

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