Shifts in IT for Successful Distributed Innovation

March 15, 2023
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By engaging with the business, or historically shadow IT, organizations can prepare themselves to leverage the tools and processes available today (e.g. Power Platform CoE). These shifts will open new opportunities for IT to focus on strategic enterprise applications the business depends upon while simultaneously retiring aged and eliminating redundant applications. Overall, IT has the opportunity to achieve more.

There is substantial evidence that distributing application innovation and development will return significant results for most organizations. According to a 2022 Forrester Research study, a 10,000-user composite organization would realize 140% ROI over 3 years from investment in Microsoft’s Power Platform to support distributed innovation and application management. At the same time, the composite organization would see a 74% reduction in application development costs and a 33% reduction in time to market, all while enabling retirement of 54% of their legacy applications. These are meaningful and tangible results, and my experiences with our clients reinforce these findings.

With that evidence, what could be stopping organizations from embracing what is often referred to as “low code” development or enablement of “citizen developers”? The hesitation I see is due in part to the cultural change that comes with organizational adoption of a low code platform, such as Power Platform. Our idea of IT’s function must move from owning and creating all artifacts to more of a platform approach, where the business has the tools to build for itself alongside the guidance and support of technical experts when they need it. In this new paradigm, IT supports and fosters the business to identify areas of automation and improvement while remaining responsible for owning the data sources and setting up guardrails to protect company data.

This paradigm shift is not only beneficial, but one could argue necessary to gain or hold a competitive advantage. IT simply does not have the resources or the perspective to develop innovations required at the pace of business. Those closest to the business challenges are more likely able to apply creativity to solving them, and the budget to innovate at the speed of business can only be fully leveraged when decentralized.

To see lower application costs and greater innovation, a shift must take place in how IT engages in most organizations. I see resistance to enablement of low-code development arising from a few concerns. Most common is simply change opposition. I often hear “that’s not how we’ve always done it” in these discussions. Add to that, fear of consequences that arise from giving up control. “What if someone in the business inadvertently shares too much data? IT will still take the blame.” In some organizations, it is a lack of confidence that the talent within the business can deliver meaningfully, impactful applications. Also, many of my customers are hesitant to explore licensing options of low-code platform technologies such as Microsoft Power Platform. This is more of an organizational responsibility question than one of costs to the overall business. Reconciling licensing costs with business leaders can be intimidating to IT, but IT has a responsibility to maximize the long-term benefits to the organization. With all of that, I am not surprised to see when IT turns off Power Platform capabilities within their tenants, but that is a mistake – leaving Forrester-level results on the table. In this article, I will discuss shifts that will help embrace low-code innovation, and highlight how to set up your organization for a true competitive advantage.

Shift 1: Bring Shadow IT Under the Same Tent

The first shift starts with the acknowledgement that there is latent talent within the business. That talent is derived from expert knowledge gained working on the front lines. The challenges these front-line employees face daily spark both urgency and innovation from those closest to, and most impacted by, these challenges. Low-code platform adoption requires faith in these front-line knowledge workers to innovate and execute. Over the hundreds of customers I have spoken with about Power Platform, I have been shocked by how many IT representatives assumed their business would have no interest in getting more involved in the development of solutions. If you have the same doubts, I encourage you to investigate the current state of shadow IT within your organization. Most IT organizations must constantly work to combat lurking applications and software usage outside of IT’s governance purview - it is seen as a threat, or at a minimum, a risk to quality. Forward-looking IT organizations see it as advantageous to have innovative, proactive stakeholders: if the business wants to respond to urgent needs by creating solutions, there is opportunity.

IT must embrace shadow IT, going beyond simply governance to full scale enablement. An example of an organization that has embraced citizen development culturally is Toyota. They have done a phenomenal job fostering a culture of employee education and empowerment while maintaining a structure for security. They have accomplished this “by democratizing development knowledge and helping both professional coders and non-developers quickly to create and iterate on applications.” Read their full story here.

Shift 2: Empowering Tools and Processes

Once established that the business can, will, and most likely already is creating their own solutions, IT can choose to become an enabler and not just a protector. An element of this shift is ensuring “makers” (application solutions creators within the business, often called “citizen developers”) have the tools to build for themselves. This requires a framework of tools and processes that can bring shadow IT closer to IT, working in a collaborative way. Too often the relationship is unnecessarily combative. With the right tools and processes for governance and data management, Power Platform can be an opportunity to both leverage and reign-in this innovation via approved, secure channels.

A core example of working with the business is setting up Microsoft’s Center of Excellence (CoE) including the apps which serve as avenues for users to request an environment, license, or engage development support. These tasks are a bit different than what IT is used to. These tools are complimented by well-defined processes to enable organized engagement, creation, governance, and security infrastructure underlaying how data is managed and shared, and proper lifecycle management to promote new or retire technology no longer in use. To hear how this can operate successfully at scale, listen to Accenture’s global IT director who supports 700,000 makers across the globe describe their strategy of keeping up with internal demands while staying protected: Power Platform – Power CAT Live - YouTube.

Accenture highlights how IT’s role is empowerment, enablement, and protection. This model scales effectively and puts IT as a point of escalation, not a gate keeper to automation. The image below, from a Rockhop marketing document, also provides a glimpse into the areas of empowerment for the business when successfully implementing a low code innovation framework.

Shift 3: Tailor Transition to your Organization

The final shift towards effectively tapping innovation throughout the business involves licensing. Many of the IT managers I talk to get hung up on the topic of licensing. Technical decision makers look at platform licensing in the headspace of “$5 for every user I want to use one app? Might as well just build it myself”. I see that view as short-sighted as this is a platform approach, a different way of doing business. The old view of licensing does not apply. This platform is best used to continuously develop tools for the business. The organizations that do this well will save on licensing by replacing SaaS subscriptions while also saving time through automation of repetitive tasks. In this model, we are utilizing the expertise of the business to think creatively to help move innovation forward. The per app license is a ramp up opportunity as organizations move from seeded licenses to a whole platform approach (per user). I advise my customers to not buy licenses before you need to utilize seeded licenses & give the organization runway to request licenses so that additions are justified and ramped up as appropriate.

The Opportunity

IT budgets cannot meet all the demands for the business while also innovating at a pace that keeps up with markets. To remain relevant, organizations must do more than an IT budget can accommodate. Further, to become competitive, we must tap into and nurture technical talent throughout the organization. Gone are the days where the only technical competencies reside within the confines of IT. In today’s world, everyone has a role in the creation of technical solutions. IT’s role must shift from doer of all things technical to enabler of innovation and protector of data.

By engaging with the business, or historically shadow IT, organizations can prepare themselves to leverage the tools and processes available today (e.g. Power Platform CoE). These shifts will open new opportunities for IT to focus on strategic enterprise applications the business depends upon while simultaneously retiring aged and eliminating redundant applications. Overall, IT has the opportunity to achieve more.

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