The Rise of Business Technologists

March 29, 2022

Contributor: Ashutosh Gupta

Learn about business technologists and how they are helping enterprises establish a new technology delivery model.

The increase in the number of business technologists highlights a significant shift in how organizations think about technology and analytics. Technology is no longer reserved solely for IT departments, and four out of five technologists work in business areas outside of IT. Organizations that effectively support business technologists are 2.6 times more likely to accelerate digital transformation.

To learn more, Gartner Senior Content Marketing Manager Kasey Panetta interviewed Jaime Capella, Distinguished VP at Gartner Research, for our ThinkCast podcast. The transcript that follows has been edited for clarity and length. Also incorporated are insights from the 3Q21 Gartner Business Quarterly article, “How to Empower and Safeguard Tech Work Outside of IT.

Download Now: The leadership, organizational and technology priorities CIOs must address in 2022

Who are business technologists?

They are employees who build technology or analytics capabilities for internal and external business use, but exist outside of IT departments. It’s a strategic role that equips and empowers non-IT resources to build digital capabilities. According to Gartner research, 41% of employees can be described as business technologists. This number varies significantly by industry. For example, it’s closer to 25% in less technology-intensive sectors like the government, but for IT-intensive sectors like energy, it’s closer to 50%. 

What does “democratization of digital delivery” mean?

It means putting the responsibility, tools and accountability for building digital capabilities in the hands of business units and not just IT. The pandemic has given this trend renewed urgency and focus to digitalize the way organizations work and serve their clients remotely. Technology work, which was once the sole responsibility of dedicated IT teams, is now being “democratized.” A dramatic growth in hyperautomation along with the rise of low-code and no-code development tools enabled this democratization of digital delivery. Many companies are now revisiting the boundaries between their IT and non-IT departments and reassessing the way they are delegating technology responsibilities.  

What is the downside of “democratization,” and how can collaborative governance help? 

While business technologists have tremendous potential to help organizations improve current digital processes or create new ones, they require proper oversight to maintain security and prevent duplication of effort. Therefore, IT and other business leaders must encourage collaborative governance to empower business technologists, allowing them to:

  • Own risk
  • Participate in decision making
  • Constructively challenge policies
  • Work with other groups to share ideas and best practices

Four actions to encourage collaborative governance

  1. Clarify your organization’s digital ambitions. Communicate a common understanding around what “digital” means for the company and help business technologists connect their projects to that broader corporate strategy. For instance, does your organization primarily want to use digital technologies to improve existing processes or operating models, or to create new ones?
  2. Encourage collaboration between governance functions and fusion teams. Create the expectation that business technologists should work alongside functions like legal, compliance, IT security and risk management to create guidance and scale new enterprise standards.
  3. Provide easy access to internal subject matter experts (SMEs). The ability to leverage SME expertise gives fusion teams the ability to constructively challenge restrictive standards based on their unique circumstances.
  4. Facilitate connections between fusion teams throughout the company. This can include building communities of practice or providing regular updates on initiatives. 

Listen now: The Rise of the Business Technologist

How can business technologists help drive more value from IT? 

As per our research, IT departments that equip and empower business technologists are 2.6 times more likely to accelerate their digital business transformation. Due to the democratization of capability development, they can take digital initiatives to fruition and derive value in a quick span. Moreover, they can successfully overcome the challenges thrown by digital competitors and untimely industry disruptions. Having business technologists puts IT front and center of some of the most strategic and significant conversations that the C-suite can have these days.

What kinds of projects do business technologists work on? 

The work of business technologists can be grouped into four main categories of digital capabilities: 

  • The pursuit of insight and personalization using artificial intelligence and advanced analytics, and applying that to things like pricing, marketing and modeling
  • Optimization of complex systems using predictive analytics to minimize downtime 
  • Automation of manual tasks with robotic process automation to boost productivity 
  • Integration of customer journeys across channels and delivering an omnichannel experience 

These are significant focus areas, which makes it quite evident that business technologists are not just amateurs building Excel macros but actively contributing toward the most critical capabilities.

Can the presence of business technologists change an enterprise’s operating model? 

Yes, it definitely can. There is a significant evolution in the way other executive functions operate and relate to business technologists.

  • General managers of business units are required to embrace the idea of making business technologists a part of fusion teams (multidisciplinary teams that blend technology and other types of domain expertise). 
  • Corporate functions that historically focus on bureaucratic control are required to get comfortable transferring digital accountability to business technologists.
  • HR, which traditionally focuses on role clarity, is required to promote role flexibility and rotations of staff across teams. 
  • Information security, which traditionally enforces checkpoint-based compliance with security, is required to help business technologists work autonomously and with the right judgment. 

How is the role of CIO shifting in the context of business technologists?

CIOs traditionally had a big set of operational responsibilities, but now they are having the added responsibility of equipping and empowering business technologists to build priority-specific digital capabilities. They are orchestrating the work of business technologists within and beyond IT, shouldering accountability with other business leaders for technology and business outcomes. Leading CIOs are working with CxOs to establish a new technology delivery model on an enterprise level that brings together business domain, technology and governance expertise, with shared accountability for business and technology outcomes.

More and more companies are realizing that they need to increasingly serve customers digitally, manage digital channels and deliver integrated cross-channel experiences. This can be done by democratizing digital delivery and empowering business technologists who are closest to the customer and more aware of the required digital capabilities than anyone else.

This article has been updated from the November 2021 original to reflect new events, conditions and research.

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