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Why this is the right time for IT

The coronavirus has put the spotlight on IT capabilities, and people are now willing to embrace technology-driven change to working practices

While the Covid-19 pandemic has been the worst of times, ironically, for IT, it has been the best of times to make changes that would traditionally have taken years to deploy and roll out.

Speaking from his home in Geneva at the start of the MuleSoft Digital Connect virtual event, the company’s founder, Ross Mason, said: “More has happened in the last 10 weeks than in the last six years. As software penetrates every part of an organisation, the needs of employees are changing.”

Mason pointed out that the lockdown and remote working have meant that the idea of centralised IT is starting to fracture because there is so much software. 

He believes that, in the face of the pandemic, there is an opportunity for IT to lead. People will accept new ways of doing things, and IT has been put into overdrive to enable businesses to work in these difficult conditions.

“The imperative is to drive faster,” said Mason. “Everyone feels they are just reacting. Our network infrastructure was never designed for everyone working remotely.”

When the situation starts returning to normal, Mason believes that “normal” will not be what it was like before. “No one was planning for a fully remote, digital workforce,” he said. “The pandemic has led to a remote workforce.”

MuleSoft has estimated that 88% of the workforce is currently working remotely, and by 2021, as much as 30% of the workforce will be working remotely, compared with 3% before the pandemic.

Everyone in organisations is now willing to accept change. For instance, the NHS’s Arden and Greater East Midlands (AGEM) Commissioning Support Unit’s Microsoft Office 365 deployment has paved the way to the roll-out of Teams during the pandemic.

“Everyone talks about the new norm,” said Chris Reynolds, head of systems and applications development services at AGEM. “I believe we will work from home for a very long time. It makes a lot more sense, and reduces commuting.”

In Reynolds’ experience, the lockdown has made people more aware of remote working tools such as Microsoft Teams, that they can use to keep in touch with colleagues. “When people find the need, they are willing to learn,” he said. “It is a very easy sell for non-techies.”

For Mason, the knock-on effect of the coronavirus is that it gives IT an opportunity to redefine how it works with the business. According to Mason, beyond network access, day-to-day work will need to be delivered with minimal help from IT.

Because many people are not working in offices, said Mason, there is no longer the opportunity for “swivel-chair collaboration” with colleagues from IT, to help them achieve a particular work task. “Now people need to do more on their own, which means IT needs to be self-service for everyone,” he said. “Nothing works in the way it did before. Self-service IT may seem like a huge challenge, but it is critical to keep the organisation moving forward.”

Mason recommended that IT should ensure everything that can be run remotely, should be run remotely, and IT should figure out how to unlock digital assets to support anyone who needs access to corporate information.

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As Computer Weekly has reported previously, there is growing interest in  the use of low-code tools to enable people who are not full-time software developers to create their own applications without the need for a full-blown IT project. 

The Low-code development platform market report from MarketsandMarkets has projected that the market for such platforms will grow from $13.2bn in 2020 to $45.5bn by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate of 28.1%.

Demand is likely to come from the growing awareness of the benefits of process automation, and governments’ increasing focus on digital transformation. The report predicted that the adoption rate for low-code development platforms and services will be high among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

Everyone needs to be able to connect to the applications and data in their organisation, but it should not be necessary for IT to get involved in every request. An application developed using a low-code tool will usually require some access to corporate data or an application programming interface (API) to a back-end system in order to pull in the information it requires. Traditionally, this would have required IT to get involved.

Similarly, Mason said business users may require different datasets to produce new reports, which again requires IT involvement. “Sales and marketing may need to report on new things quickly,” he said. “Human resources people need to figure out new workflows.”

People in the business will need to be able to find data sources without having to involve central IT, said Mason. “With self-service, IT no longer needs to deliver every project,” he added. “This frees up time for IT and enables employees to go further.

“As you start to unlock data sources, available through a portal, you can teach sales and marketing where to find them. Then they can start to see what is available and start pulling data into their reporting tool.”

Self-service IT requires IT leaders to shift their approach to the IT function and its role in business, said Mason, adding: “Rather than drive projects, IT should enable others to deliver their own projects.”

He said this requires comprehensive training and rapid support to enable people across the business to find and use data to enable them to get their work done without having to raise an IT support ticket.

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