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Time to Change: Update Your Mental Model to Improve Business Innovation

For epochs, the death of code has been foretold. With the prediction getting overhyped, it is clear that the role of technical expertise in the enterprise is transforming. It can be depicted by Shadow IT, which has been a conversation point for some time. In 1995, the technical expertise and general mental model of IT were perforated. The fact that Shadow IT is pervasive is out of step with how people think about tech expertise. Numbers have estimated as much as 10xs known app usage, which shows how technology is harnessed within the organization.

The dated mental models used today are based on organizations having two groups of people “IT” and “Non-IT.” The applications and information systems in the past were primarily built and managed through command-line tools, code, SQL statements, and complex configuration files. This technical skills expertise required a clear delineation between the people who created and configured it. It integrated the applications (IT) and those who used them (non-IT). As time passes by, people have started to evolve with the latest and updated technology. With the help of low-code/no-code solutions, an enriched focus on user experience and packaged cloud offerings, the technology has become increasingly accessible. Over time, as the new generation penetrates the workforce, people have also evolved on iPads and Netflix, and apps and websites have become a regular part of everyday life for the rest of us.

Going back to 20 years ago, our perception of these skills in the organization is still rooted in the world when there was a gap in technical skills between IT and business teams. Also, there was a need to deliver deep technical expertise and technology solutions. At the same time, for years, organizations have struggled to enhance IT and business alignment with limited success. Fundamentally, the lack of success can be attributed to the “us and them” mentality, where almost all IT and the business are contending entities within the same organization – the technical experts vs. the “non-technical” business.

Thus, businesses are left with a false choice with this outdated perception that’s out of step with the fleet-footed changes on the ground. In particular, the role of IT and CIOs is changing in veritably visible ways. Likewise, low-code/no-code (LCNC) is leading to theatrical changes in how organizations interact with software. Summits of big tectonic shifts in work get done, like mixed teams or composable firms, are well underway. It is only with these shifts that we see organizations finally throwing away the old mental model and truly leveraging the technical expertise of the entire organization.

The First Domino to Fall – Service Queue Model

Toiling with a customer whose integration system was handled by IT in a model where teams around the business would log requests and wait in the queue to be prioritized. In Spite of over 1,500 employees in an IT team servicing around 20,000 employees, only two on the team could deliver solutions using the integration middleware product. As a result, it created an obvious bottleneck. This type of situation depicts the state of most organizations across the globe. Due to our legacy mental model, technical skills expertise is misapplied. Instead of realizing that less technical individuals can deliver a large portion of the same services, we remain stuck with the perception that technical services require deep technical experts.

However, it is changing by employing the service queue model, which is giving way to more democratized approaches. Low code lowers the technical skill requirements and acts as the bridge between the business and technical worlds. With the bar lowered and the average technical skill of the organization advancing, the combination allows many more people to stitch together business systems, services, and experiences like building blocks. 

In this scenario, technical expertise is not devalued; it is refocused. Highly technical resources can now use their time more effectively by working on difficult queries or solutions that use their technical expertise, often moving into an overseeing and guidance role. It enables them to ensure that all solutions delivered are high-quality, safe, and compliant. Democratization is not about replacing technical expertise but understanding and effectively using your organization’s technical skill-sets.  

Democratization Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Structure

We aim to look at what companies do across the gamut, as there is no one-size-fits-all structure. Although the role of tech expertise in companies is changing, that does not mean every company needs to change on an immediate basis. In our gears framework, we break it down into three different operating models, which have an Automation HQ team at the centre: 

  1. Centralized Model

  2. Distributed Model

  3. Hybrid Model

The Centralized Model

Teams focus on the service queue, having total control over what gets built, as this is entrenched in traditional companies and can be difficult to change. It is common with IT but can also be used in other departments, for instance, a centralized marketing automation team. While this works at an initial level, it typically does not scale, leading organizations to employ other approaches. However, starting with a centralized model is never a bad preference.

The Distributed Model

Sometimes we call this the federated model, where the building happens across the company empowered by LCNC while the Automation HQ team still maintains centralized standards and controls.

The Hybrid Model

It is a combination of centralized and distributed, where this can sometimes be a transition point between centralized and distributed, and periodically works better for companies.

Knowledge, Control, and Speed

The role of technical expertise is altering along three levels – knowledge, control, and speed, regardless of what model an organization employs. Our mental models of technical skills expertise should shift to adapt to these changes.

Knowledge

Knowledge sharing grows in importance as IT firms shift from following a request-service model into a guidance model. Across the teams, there are distinct skill sets and leveraging them at the right time. To be precise, IT and business bring diverse mindsets, and harnessing the strengths of each is the right approach. However, if not done appropriately, the distributed teams can face a struggle. For instance, the numerous technical team members might help in providing functions such as error handling, operational monitoring, security, and performance are properly considered. In contrast, the less technical and often more business-centric individuals will ensure the solution is truly bringing business value by ensuring the requirements, workflows, and experience is optimal.

Control

In the service queue model, IT teams are used to having total control. However, for over a decade, Shadow IT has been a sign of drifting control and locking down only encourages more Shadow IT. Instead, taking the right approach involves measuring IT on the role of healthy governance. Moreover, it is crucial to shift the relationship when thinking about control, less about command and more about enabling the team with the right standards and processes. Above all, IT needs to shift from being a barrier to being a guide.

Speed

If IT relinquishes control, the essential trade-off with control can happen much faster. Reducing controls and boosting speed can result in involuntary consequences if taken too far. Therefore, assuring that oversight is maintained when thinking about democratization is vital. Moving fast and maintaining controls is possible, but it requires an intentional focus on both, and our gears framework is focused on doing the same. Some of these statements may seem obvious, while others may have heard them before at a conference or equivalent. 

However, organizations making the same mistake over and over for the past decade indicate that something is wrong with how we approach technical expertise as an idea. Imagine we begin to view it as something distributed across the company rather than secluded in the corner of the organization; in this situation, we comprehend that the overall approach to technology within the firm needs modification. Hence, this approach is done when we come across organizations making big breakthroughs and starting to achieve real transformation.



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