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It's time software decisions were a democracy, not a dictatorship

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/TechnoVectors)

Democracy seems to be under assault wherever you look these days. It’s not just in the political landscape that we see this but also in our working lives, with top-down decisions taken from senior leaders that miss the mark and fail to truly gauge the feeling of the workforce as a whole. This extends right through to the software that businesses are using, bringing security concerns like BYOD and Shadow IT into the organisation as employees look to use like-for-like software with a more user-friendly interface.

According to a CMO study any digital transformation project within a business has to get the buy-in from everybody in the user chain, from the C-suite down. Getting employees to buy into new software systems can be difficult, especially if it is perceived to make their jobs harder or they use a consumer solution that they think is easier.

This unnecessary complexity has to stop but it can only do so when the needs and wishes of the teams directly using the software are consulted. The time of clunky, unfriendly, expensive software dictatorships is over, and a new software democracy is emerging.

The software dictatorship

Picking the right software for your business can be like picking your first home or university. It must be right for your needs, is likely to be used for long periods of time and inevitably, there will always be some complications or issues. These are big decisions; however, you would rarely make these without some kind of consultative process. So why shouldn’t this be the same for the software deployed within a business environment?

The top-down approach to selecting software, however, is leading to issues arising within businesses that go beyond unsanctioned and shadow technologies. It is also starting to have an impact on business efficiencies. Recent research has revealed that one in four end users admit that using software they don’t like makes them want to quit their jobs, rising to 30 per cent amongst millennials – the fastest growing demographic in today’s workforce. It’s not just employee retention that software has an impact on, but also morale and team cohesion. By involving end-users in software-making decisions from the outset, employees will feel more respected and empowered, leading to improved overall morale. End users report that if management involved them in deciding what software to use, it would make them feel respected and empowered while boosting their morale.

The new world order

What can businesses do then to ensure they strike the right balance between business-critical software and end-user satisfaction? The top-down approach to selecting software should make way for an inclusive, democratic style where every member of the team is involved in the decision-making process. Opening the selection process up to those directly impacted by the software in question ensures that those team members feel valued by the management and their opinions are taken on board. By opening up the process to the team, you immediately expand your talent and knowledge pool, helping to make a more collaborative decision based on multiple people’s backgrounds and unique knowledge, rather than a single individual who no matter how good they are, is no match for the collective. 

It can seem like a daunting prospect, relinquishing control to the masses but as with any democracy, it’s not a free-for-all, it’s a process of consultation and election. Employees can have their say through open forums, pilot programs, and employee surveys – all to ensure their voices are heard and a consensus is reached on the requirements for any new software. Getting the buy-in from leaders within a team or creating champions of the software is important. They can disseminate the information and have a powerful effect on the adoption on the ground.

By giving control to the masses, one of the things IT managers might be concerned about is pleasing everyone. Each business/ business function or region may have different technological needs, which begs the question, how do you meet these needs? What’s key here is that there doesn’t need to be a one size fits all approach, and you don't need to be looking for multiple siloed solutions which need heavy customisation or development. What you need is a solution that is lightweight, agile, scalable and configurable. This way, you can meet the needs of different people often, with a single solution which also offers you that cohesive central view.

Safety first

Understandably, there are concerns around this democratic approach – namely security. But good security practices don’t have to compromise the selection of good software. It is still important that all members of staff are educated by the IT department on the security risks, regardless of whether they’ve had a say in the new software’s implementation. If companies and IT departments communicate effectively, the adoption of new software can be seamless, allowing for security and speed. Upskilling employees and alerting them to the potential pitfalls of any IT purchase will allow for the business to transition smoothly and put them at greater ease about other technologies being used in the workplace.

To reclaim business efficiency and productivity alike, business leaders need to drastically rethink the software dictatorships within their organisations or else they run the risk of lower employee engagement and possible resignations, all which impact the company’s bottom line and ability to deliver its services to its customers. The general election of software is a must.

Simon Johnson, General Manager UK and Ireland, Freshworks