3 Powerful Ways Decentralizing IT is a Force Multiplier in Digital Transformation

I was hired to lead technology at Businessweek magazine fifteen years ago. Back then, it was a McGraw Hill company, and one business in its information and media segment. I was the business unit's CIO responsible for businessweek.com, content management platforms, subscription management workflows, and other technologies. The corporate CIO oversaw several shared services, including the data center, end-user computing, and the ERP, while the divisional CIO oversaw several platforms shared with the other information and media companies, including Platts, JD Power, and McGraw Hill Construction (now Dodge Data and Analytics). 

I share this background because leading a decentralized IT isn't anything new. CIOs have shifted models from centralized to decentralized for decades in the same way organizations shift back and forth from outsourcing to insourcing models.

Decentralizing IT, Digital Transformation, Isaac Sacolick

But decentralizing IT today is more about carving up roles/responsibilities, enabling business unit innovations, or simplifying with shared services. Today, decentralizing aspects of IT practices can lead to digital transformation force multipliers, address technology skillset gaps, and empower business stakeholders with self-service capabilities.

Here are three areas to focus on:

1. Citizen Data Science and Proactive Data Governance

Gone are the days of centralized BI teams producing reports and analytics. Today, while many organizations will have centralized data science teams working on machine learning models and data engineering teams focused on dataops, they will also empower citizen data scientists and drive proactive data governance

Here's why Michael Berthold, CEO at KNIME, believes in decentralizing data science. 

"Data Science is moving fast into an essential role, but that doesn’t mean IT owns it. Rather, CIOs need to ensure all stakeholders involved in making sense out of data are empowered with the utmost flexibility to access and query all available data. They must ensure generating insights isn’t delayed by lengthy approval and internal project-request cycles. This is also true for data science models being pushed back into production; agile environments need to ensure speedy model refinement and updating."

Why is this a powerful force multiplier: Business teams are more likely to ask relevant questions, seek insights, and pursue actions. Citizen data science provides the platform, and proactive data governance helps improve data quality and institutes the guardrails when implementing analytics.

2. Hybrid Working Requires Agile Collaboration

Waterfall project plans, mile-long requirements documents, and "business-IT alignment" are (hopefully) long gone. But many IT leaders acknowledge that achieving agile cultures, cross-functional innovation teams, and optimizing OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is still a work in progress. Hybrid working can be a catalyst to accelerate the collaboration required to bring business, data, and technically skilled people to partner on roadmaps, short-term wins, and delivering business impacts.

Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora, that this collaboration is achieved through transparency of the program portfolio and ideation pipeline.

"CIOs must understand that work is no longer about communication; it’s about collaboration. Communication is manual and slows down the pace of work. Collaboration is automated, moves projects along quicker, and provides remote teams with complete portfolio and pipeline visibility. Collaboration is achievable with value stream management, which enables decentralized teams to stay on the same page and maintain high-quality, efficient software delivery that delights customers and delivers value."

Why is this a powerful force multiplier: How does innovation begin in your organization? How can an employee champion an idea and experiment on solutions? I believe it begins with developing a vision statement, establishing value streams, and providing transparency around the ideation process. 

3. Co-create Apps, Integrations, and Automations with Low-Code and No-Code

While agile practices and value stream management provide the workflow foundations for decentralizing technology practices, CIOs and IT departments still need low-code and no-code technologies to support collaboration and experimentation. And low-code / no-code is not just for building apps; there are platforms today to support integration, automation, and other technical functions.

Carter Busse, CIO at Workato, believes IT should drive the architecture and governance models that enable business teams to build solutions.

"To enable decentralized IT, CIOs must double down on architecture, compliance, and security. This includes configuring the applications and designing processes to enforce strict guardrails so lines of business can build their own solutions, with no negative impacts on production systems. When there is no compromise on this approach, it will mitigate many decentralized IT concerns."

Why is this a powerful force multiplier: IT has only so many developers and engineers to staff the business's technology needs, and today, many business teams have tech-savvy employees ready to roll up their technology sleeves. But IT teams know the best practices on architectures, the SDLC, testing, integrations, and deployment, so the art is finding a way to develop and manage standards.


The question for CIOs and IT leaders is, are we ready to give up command-and-control, accelerate digital transformation, and focus on establishing easy-to-follow governance guardrails?

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.