There’s been a lot of talk lately about the democratization of software development. Improved user interfaces and low-code platforms have made it so that anyone can write a simple program to solve whatever business process problem they’re facing. Gone are the days when even the most minor software development needs would have to be routed through an overworked IT or R&D department, who would promptly tell supplicants to wait in line. Today, a finance professional knows they can easily get the answer they need by going into Excel and writing a macro.
A growing example of the democratization of software development is the move toward robotic process automation (RPA). It’s not just a trend; Forrester predicts the RPA market will grow to $7.7 billion in 2020, which means more organizations are turning to automation (or bots) to free workers from mundane, repetitive work, allowing them to perform the higher-level tasks that help drive the business. And it’s not just IT departments. Diverse business units are taking advantage of RPA to streamline operations.
But properly implementing RPA — or any homegrown software solution, for that matter — could benefit greatly from collaboration with R&D to ensure solutions are as robust as possible and, ultimately, that they work in harmony with other processes.
So what does that mean for CTOs?
For starters, it means adapting to a new culture. Software democratization has not changed the core function of what a CTO does. It has, however, created a new opportunity to flex your leadership muscles and steer the organization to new efficiencies. Read on for three steps that could help you achieve CTO nirvana in the age of democratization.
Embrace The Chaos
Your first inclination will be to try to stop, or at least rein in, the chaos of ad-hoc projects cropping up in every business unit. After all, you’re used to tight processes, code reviews, peer reviews, team programming — all designed to ensure quality output. Suddenly, democratization says anyone can do anything. You’ve spent your career maximizing efficiencies, so this new diversity in thought and “craziness” is going to seem painful. However, it doesn’t have to be.
The fact that people from any department can have a hand in solving your business problems is a good thing — don’t stop them! Instead, listen, and accept and embrace the chaos. There is a great deal you can learn from these projects. Mine the resulting data for things that can help your organization, such as new ideas, tools and ways to apply technology to solve problems. The diversity in thinking means new perspectives could lead to solutions you might not have thought of on your own.
Lead, Don’t Follow
Once you know that you cannot — and should not — stop a grassroots project, demonstrate you’re a supporter by providing resources to help it succeed. For example, when we began to see RPA projects take off at my company, we assigned R&D team members to learn the challenges people were facing to understand what they needed to do their jobs better or more efficiently. The goal was to improve the work they were doing rather than take it over or shut it down.
Instead of merely tolerating software development democratization, be an advocate by starting efforts such as training sessions to help improve skills and recognition programs to reward employees who take initiative.
Finally, offer up supporting technologies. It’s inevitable that folks will take on their own homegrown software projects, so why not give them the proper tools? This way, you not only ensure a high-quality result, but you also improve employee morale, contribute to a collaborative corporate culture and elevate the overall business.
The Processes That Got You Here Can Get You There
Today, anyone can teach themselves to code. But it’s not just about writing code; it’s also about deploying, maintaining, monitoring and supporting software to ensure processes work harmoniously.
One of the things I have noticed about most democratized work is that there is little thought given to how long the solution will need to be available, who will maintain it and how changes and improvements will be implemented. IT can either help establish an ecosystem to define these items, or it is destined to become the dumping ground of failed and outdated solutions.
As CTO, you’re the expert at instituting processes and technologies to support DevOps initiatives. You can take your colleagues’ enthusiasm for developing technical solutions that improve their processes and help them understand how to do it the right way by introducing them to the people on your IT team who can help make their vision a reality.
In summary, as technology and workforces evolve, the role of the CTO also evolves. It’s not enough to work with software developers and IT resources. Rather, the scope needs to broaden and include all members of the organization who use technology. That makes your expertise more mission-critical than ever.