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How Digital Governance is Evolving – And Why Leaders Should Care

“Digital governance” is a relatively new term. To understand it, it’s helpful to recap what we mean by “digital transformation” – which is essentially leveraging technology to improve processes and the way people work.

Digital transformation is multifaceted and powerful but also very complex. This is precisely why, as businesses evolve and accelerate it, they also need to govern it. In other words, it needs to be tracked and monitored with a degree of due diligence.

But “governance” has its own connotations. For many, the word conjures up thoughts of “command and control” or “big brother.”

I believe that approaching digital governance with this kind of mindset isn’t appropriate because people are the ones who are using digital tools. Therefore, policies and rules around digital governance must take human interaction into account, which means effective digital governance needs a healthy dose of humanity if it’s to be relevant and impactful.

“Shadow IT” in another dress

Let me share an example to illustrate what I mean.

Today, you’ll hear many banks talking about going “low code.” Essentially, this means enabling non-IT employees to create their own applications – a concept also known as the “citizen developer.” Today, thanks to tools like Power Apps or Power Platform, people who don’t have coding skills can quickly and easily spin up their own applications to help them accomplish their tasks more effectively. (Essentially, it’s a new flavor of “shadow IT” – a concept that’s dogged in-house IT teams for years, which involves people bringing and using their own devices and applications into the work setting.)

The rise of the citizen developer can be a good thing if it makes people feel empowered and more productive, but it can also introduce problems.

One of my banking colleagues explained that enthusiastic citizen developers were creating some friction and confusion in their organization, not to mention introducing business risk (a key concern, given how highly regulated the banking sector is.)

There were two key issues:

First, the IT and legal teams had concerns about data loss or a security breach. With people creating and then running their apps in the cloud, how could they be sure that sensitive data wasn’t compromised, corrupted, or even stolen?

Second, the fact that employees were embedding artificial intelligence (AI) capability into their home-grown apps introduced the risk of poor business decisions being taken based on potentially false or inaccurate assertions coded into the AI itself. Widespread and ungoverned use of AI can result in inaccurate, non-contextual, and even contradictory information being generated. And if people make important business decisions based on flawed data, the repercussions can be grave.

Naturally, the bank’s leadership team wanted to avoid either of these scenarios at all costs, but they also had the foresight to accept that simply locking everything down and forbidding their employees from creating and using such apps wasn’t the way forward. They recognized that would simply mean a whole lot of frustrated people!

Meeting people where they are

They saw the wisdom of taking a bottom-up rather than top-down approach. They didn’t simply go ahead and publish an inflexible mandate or rulebook. Instead, they chose to “meet their people where they were” by engaging them in the governance conversation and giving them a voice. When people feel heard and understood, not only are you able to gain widespread acceptance more quickly, but you face much less opposition to some of the stricter, but necessary, policies that must be enforced.

Of course, this is a delicate balance to manage – affording people the tools and flexibility they need to do their best work but still maintaining some steady guardrails.

Digital governance needs a human touch

Whatever the size of your business or the industry in which you operate, I believe that digital governance will always require a human touch.

Technology will only ever be as good as those who use it, and even AI has its limitations. We still need people to spot false positives and interrogate and contextualize the outputs of many data analytics engines.

Wherever the digital superhighway may take us, the role and value of having really smart people on your team will never become obsolete.

About the Author

James Farhat is a cloud expert, cross-industry innovation leader and the CEO of ACTS. He has authored books and has been a speaker at leading industry events and for Microsoft worldwide. His thought leadership has been provided to many C-level executives at many Fortune 500 companies.

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