7 Habits of Inspiring Tech Leaders: (3) Agent of Democratization

I’ve talked in the past about “above the line and below the line” engagement for tech leaders.  The “below the line” functions are those that are most frequently ripe for democratization.  In a business sense, democratization is the act of making a capability common, for it to be a shared and indistinguishable ability to get work done.  For example, a pencil is a democratized product, in the sense that it is available to everyone.  Yes, there are No2 or No3 type pencils, but generally if a teammate needs a pencil, you loan them one, and aren’t even that bugged if they accidentally take it with them.  In a technology sense, areas like platform, end user computing, computing, collaboration, and mobility can become commodities. 

A Story About Democratization

When did you first get a mobile device?  Like a real mobile device?  I first got a Palm Pilot IIIc in the year 2000.  As a tech professional at the time I thought I was pretty special.  The features of taking notes, tracking my work items, communication were all differentiators for me.  Plus, nobody had one.  I would frequently get questions about “how does it work?” and “can I try it?”  If I’m honest, it was difficult to use, didn’t have easy to load apps, and was more for the experience than actually making my life better. 


As time progressed and Palm Pilots turned into iPaq, turned into iPhone / Android, slowly the ecosystem became increasingly popular and generalized.  It wasn’t just me who had a device, it seemed everyone was getting a device.  As that started to happen the market started to fill with management tools, accessories, and connected platforms.  Now, getting a device is as easy as going to your carrier and purchasing it along with a plan.  We seamlessly connect it to our productivity experience and start working.  If you’ve lost the device you don’t talk with IT to have it imaged or delivered to you, you just get a new one.  The mobile device market has truly achieved commodity status, that with few differentiations, the devices can all be equivalently engaged for work purposes.


Democratizing IT and Two Types of Leaders

The best leaders look at their below the line IT functions and determine how they can be democratized for the entire business to use without friction.  The goal of IT is to apply technology so it is like picking up a pencil vs. going through a complicated process to use something that should be easy.  This also means letting go.  I’ve seen two types of leaders… those that continue to hang onto something they believe is differentiated and those that let go.  The most common recent example is in the transition of the datacenter. 

The first leader looks at their datacenter and continues to operate what they call a “private cloud”.  This leader operates a large on-premise datacenter, provides a self-service portal, charge-back, and server based pricing models.  In reality, they are low on the maturity curve of cloud technology, are a pain to work with, slow to provision, and the business goes around them any time innovation needs to happen.  The first leader believes they have created both differentiation and ease of use, but in reality they have blocked innovation and prevented true competition.  This type of leader will slowly suffocate the IT organization until the leader is replaced by someone who enables and engages the business.


The second leader looks at the datacenter and knows that modernization of approach is necessary.  They see the public cloud and its extension into edge as the future and work to enable a democratized cloud approach.  The approach brings with modern deployment, management, and engagement approaches, but even more it matches the business’s use of tech with the pace of the market.  The market will continue to evolve, just like mobile phones do, but it is evolving in a commoditized, democratized way, vs. a unique service delivered by the business.  Of course, the business needs differentiated services, but the goal for uniqueness should not block democratizing the core platform.  The best leader seeks to create access for the business, they aid adoption, and create enabled services.


Centers of Excellence

The sign of effective democratization is the Center of Excellence (CoE), whose goal is not to be a delivery organization, but instead an engagement and governance organization. The intent of effective CoEs is to lead the business in governance and enablement, by empowering teams to work independently, make independent decisions, and encourage the best people to work at their best pace. A CoE is applied in areas like:

  1. Cloud Governance and Adoption
  2. Security Policy Deployment
  3. Organizational Change Management
  4. Application Governance
  5. Agile Project Management Office
  6. Low Code / No Code Development
  7. Business Intelligence

The best organizations foster best practices while enabling agility and ability to execute. The best technology leaders accelerate this move, driving empowerment in the business.

Democratizing by Letting Go

The hardest thing to do sometimes is to let go. Any parent has experienced this, where you need to slowly, or sometimes quickly let go of your child… allowing them to make their own decisions, mistakes, and successes. It is through this letting go that the child is able to realize their full potential. In a similar fashion the best leaders know when to let go, when to provide insight, when to allow a failure to happen, and when to prevent it. The context of CoEs, democratization, and enablement tend to go together. These are not predicated on control, but instead on commoditizing the common and enabling the uncommon.


The best leaders know how to enable technology for EVERYONE in the organization, whether it is devices and productivity or more capabilities like Low Code / No Code. Are you a leader that democratizes?

Nathan Lasnoski

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