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How 'digital empowerment' of users can speed business transformation

Traditional workplace structures and thinking won't cut it anymore, says Allison Mnookin, CEO at QuickBase Inc. Instead, CIOs need to embrace new tools, mindsets and forms of digital empowerment to help gain fresh insights and make the digital workplace more efficient.

In this video interview with Mnookin at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass, she discusses the meaning of digital empowerment, how CIOs can harness employees' problem-solving skills and the value of a decentralized IT department. She was a speaker during a panel discussion on "Redesigning the Digital Workplace" at the event. 

What is "digital empowerment?"

One of the things we're particularly interested in is what we've observed tied to digital transformation and that so often the insights around work are out with the workers, and the old mode of thinking that all things digital are going to be solved centrally, frankly, is too slow and too many steps removed from translation.

So, part of what we've seen with a lot of our more forward-leaning CIOs is realizing that they can harness new tools with sort of the rise -- we talk a lot about citizen development -- but the rise of employees wanting to be part of solving the problems they see. And, frankly, with tools getting easier -- I mean QuickBase being one, but there are others -- they are now capable of helping solve some of the [problems] they see within the business or to serve customers. I think it's really an exciting moment for CIOs who [are challenged by] key digital transformation requirements, a massive shortfall of talent, a backlog that's ever growing [of] tech debt in their back office.

I think [there are] huge opportunities for CIOs to partner with the employees to empower them.
Allison MnookinCEO, QuickBase Inc.

So how can they empower employees to help them solve those problems? You hear about the rise of citizen development, the space we're in, letting users solve their own problems building applications and citizen analytics -- not all analytic questions require a data scientist with a PhD. How can you put data in the hands of your employees to gather those insights -- even integrations, as we have more disbursed datasets? There are now abilities with tools where you can pull data together to get those right insights or to smooth work processes. I think [there are] huge opportunities for CIOs to partner with the employees to empower them.

Is this an argument for a decentralized IT department versus a centralized one?

We've seen very different models, and I think there are a variety of models. But I think [with] the old mode of "If I don't control it, it doesn't exist," I think with the rise of bring your own device, CIOs have realized that's an old mindset. And so increasingly you see, yes, at times there [are] business units empowered to just do their own thing within certain guard rails or we see a variety of CIOs saying, "I'm going to pick some platforms that I've checked [that] fit my governance and security requirements and enabled the businesses to solve a set of problems that, frankly, I wasn't going to get to."

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