While digital transformation offers significant benefits, it also comes with a subsequent increase in tech demands that can stress an already-burdened IT department. That demand has made software development one of the fastest growth job markets — but when every company now finds itself in need, demand can outstrip supply. Forrester reports that by 2024, the U.S. could have a deficit of over 500,000 software developers.
Rather than overload existing IT personnel or fight over resources, some organizations are looking to empower their employees in different departments with the ability to design, iterate, and release new applications and programs with only minimal oversight from IT. This democratized approach to development is known as citizen development.
What is a Citizen Developer?
Citizen development is when any employee who is not a professional software developer or IT specialist creates and designs applications for their organization. These citizen developers are also referred to as citizen integrators, citizen data scientists, or citizen IT. While every citizen developer has different skills and education, most are not trained in a technology discipline and have little to no experience in coding. Rather, their backgrounds are in other organizational areas, such as business analysis, project management, financing, or operations.
The first citizen developers were those who took up development entirely on their own time and initiative, teaching themselves coding to solve problems without having to go through their IT departments. As companies increasingly saw the value of providing non-IT employees with the opportunity to improve overall operational efficiency, they began to encourage the practice. Today, most businesses make use of IT-sanctioned low-code or no-code platforms to give their citizen developers a place to experiment and solve their own business problems.
What is the Role of Citizen Developers in a Company?
Citizen developers can take the initiative in thinking up and designing new applications that will simplify work tasks or create requested features and functions. While these programs are often simple, focused applications, they can help increase job efficiencies specific to that team or department.
The citizen development model can provide improved ROI for application resources by delivering a more agile and faster development cycle than traditional means of coding. Citizen developers have an advantage in thinking of effective solutions, as they typically have firsthand experience with the tasks and processes that they’re designing applications to perform.
With citizen developers handling these focused developments, existing IT personnel are empowered to work on more mission-critical tasks and high-end projects, such as data security and architectural upgrades.
What is the Role of Citizen Developers in Relation to IT?
Citizen developers cannot, and should not, replace a dedicated IT team. In addition to managing higher-level responsibilities for software and hardware, the IT team should provide oversight over how citizen developers create and integrate their applications. This prevents the creation of a “shadow IT” where applications and technology are developed and run entirely outside of the IT department’s purview. Rather than increase efficiencies, shadow IT can cause redundancies, conflicts, and critical errors.
There should be a plan in place to enable IT team members to partner with citizen developers, either to follow up on best practices and compliance or to offer assistance and training. Over time, some citizen developers can further train and then transition into full-time IT roles, depending on the needs of the organization.
Organizations are likely to continue fostering citizen development as companies across different industries continue their digital transformation journeys. Gartner has found that, on average, 41% of non-IT employees are responsible for creating and customizing new technological solutions. Gartner predicts that by 2025, half of all the business buyers that purchase low-code development platforms will come from non-IT organizations.
Low-code vs. No-code Development
Citizen development can be accomplished through either no-code or low-code development:
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- No-code development uses drag-and-drop graphic user interfaces (GUIs) that require zero knowledge of coding.
- Low-code development also uses a simplified interface but allows for adjustment and customization through simple coding. The distinction is somewhat arbitrary, as no-code programming can be done within a low-code platform.
For example, if you wanted to make a new business application, you could use the turnkey function of the canvas apps in Microsoft Power Apps to quickly put together a working prototype. You could start by finding a sample application or template which matches your business use-case and simply connect it to your data all without needed to adjust the code.
However, if you needed to add in some additional features or functions beyond the scope of the sample app, such as an additional data source or a button to create a new link, you would need to make some small coding adjustments to insert those functions. Thankfully, many users understand Excel formulas, and other basic patterns, and canvas power apps uses a very similar syntax which is well documented, and easy to implement. Understanding the simple principles of coding is more than just a way to add new features; utilizing coding standards ensures that applications function the way they should and makes them easier to maintain and update.
This adherence to best practices can help applications graduate from simple solutions for a single team to larger applications that can be shared across the entire enterprise. Think of it like building a tree house: While a basic understanding of construction can provide your children with a functional area to play in, if they intended on playing in it year round – including in inclement weather – you’d want to build a solid frame in accordance with good design principles.
IT departments or consultants can review low-code apps and ensure that coding best practices are followed. This pro-code development enables the community of citizen developers to innovate ideas, and then have those applications refined through advanced functions, such as custom connectors and PCI controls that go well beyond the scope of low-code development platforms. Moreover, Microsoft offers a complete “Center of Excellence” solution to provide IT departments with a turn-key solution for oversight and reporting.
Benefits & Concerns of Citizen Development
There are more benefits to citizen development than just increased efficiency: According to a Forrester study on the Total Economic Impact of Power Apps, it also offers measurable time- and cost-savings. However, if citizen developers aren’t provided with the right support and oversight, then problems may arise.
- Application development becomes faster and more agile. Applications developed through low code / no code forms require less internal development effort, lower professional services fees and vendor applications costs, and are easier to maintain. In the TEI report, the average cost to develop an application was reported to be 74% less with Power Apps compared to traditional development.
- Design is more aligned with user needs and experience. Employees in the field have the best understanding about what data needs to be collected and how information should be organized. Empowering them to design the application and interface allows for faster turnaround times and higher employee satisfaction. This solution is especially useful for mobile and remote workers, who can contribute to development while out of the office.
- More time is provided for IT to focus on high priority needs. It’s already been said that citizen developers can take some of the burden off the IT team, enabling them to focus on more critical matters. Low-code and no-code platforms also provide IT departments with useful resources, as professional developers can use them for rapid proto-typing, reducing time spent designing their own applications.
- Can increase transparency in development and resource sharing. The problem with early citizen development is that it was done out of sight and sometimes integrated without the knowledge of professional developers. Low-code and no-code platforms create a controlled environment that allows for oversight, reduces security risks, and eliminates redundancies, adding legitimacy to citizen development and bringing shadow IT out of the shadows.
- Can save money on development and licensing costs. Developing more applications in-house eliminates the need to outsource development or to purchase third-party applications. In the TEI report, the composite organization replaced two applications resulting in a total savings of $742,449.
- Improved agility and efficiency provide a competitive advantage. Applications can digitize manual and paper-based activities, reducing the need for certain manual tasks, saving time and labor. Within the TEI’s composite study, 1,650 users saved 1.6 hours per week by Year 3, which equated to an achievement of roughly $3.7 million in efficiencies.
- It is not a full replacement for a dedicated IT team. Due to the nature of low-code and no-code, citizen development is limited in the scope of problems that it can solve. It’s not suited for any scenarios that require extensive customization or integration with multiple third-party applications.
- Coordination with IT is still needed. A higher number of users means more applications, but it also brings a higher risk of potential errors or redundancies. This “too many cooks” scenario leaves the door open to shadow IT and can cause headaches. Citizen developers will still need to be trained on best practices and may require re-training when technology or compliance are updated.
- Trusting but verifying your citizen developers is key. Without implementing key “Center of Excellence” policies – such as Data Loss Prevention (DLP) – you run the risk of critical errors by your users. Simple oversight and planning will prevent this from occurring.
Ways to Ensure Success with Citizen Development
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — doing citizen development the right way from the start will prevent a lot of time, money, and pain down the line. Keep these best practices in mind when starting a citizen development initiative:
- Educate all stakeholders to get them on the same page about the benefits, responsibilities, and expectations; this includes obtaining buy-in from senior management. After all, you wouldn’t want an upset VP to discover that an employee has been taking time to workshop an application instead of addressing an assigned task.
- Determine policies that outline the people and tech involved and set boundaries and oversight between IT and citizen developers. You want to provide your citizens some autonomy from IT, but also ensure they’re documenting what needs to be documented and following correct processes.
- Document everything in a central repository that’s widely accessible so that nothing is “hidden.” At the same time, you’ll want to use a system that employs permissions that limits access to some delicate data and systems. Just because everyone is granted some access to the vault doesn’t mean everyone should have a copy of the master key.
- Consider having your IT department create embedded application templates with regulatory and compliance controls. This would automate much of the citizen development process, while ensuring best practices are consistently followed.
- Have your professional developers set up comprehensive administration and governance tools to oversee a nurturing, yet controlled, environment for application development. This is key in balancing the opportunity for innovation and improvement with required standards, consistency, and governance. For example, Microsoft’s Center of Excellence (CoE) Starter Kit modules provide a helpful starting point for establishing best practice app development in Power Platform.
Do not overlook the importance of good governance. Setting restrictions and establishing oversight may not always feel like a priority but is fundamental towards the successful use of low-code and no-code development platforms. If you want to allow users to play with app development, you’ll also need to see what they’re doing and that they have access to appropriate environments. When you have fully licensed users acting without oversight, you can quickly run into problems like lack of data storage or — worst-case scenario — security threats from malicious users.
How Hitachi Solutions Can Assist with Citizen Development
Citizen development removes the roadblock between idea and execution, enabling non-IT personnel to quickly solve problems. The freedom to try iterative application design means your employees are more likely to find a successful solution. Different people see things in different ways, so when they’re allowed to try new approaches, your organization benefits from innovation.
Software-as-a-Service platforms have made low-code and no-code tools more available, affordable, and viable. The use of drag-and-drop functionality, declarative tools, and simple UIs enables users to build apps for tasks within hours, instead of days. Because they’re designed to be used by non-developers, low-code platforms offer easy onboarding with a simple interface and walk-through tutorials.
If you’re looking to enhance your organization’s productivity, Hitachi Solutions is ready to help you get started with Microsoft Power Apps. Our Power Apps Maker Enablement training sets your team up for success with comprehensive learning and development designed to enhance collaboration between teams and transform productivity across your organization. Find out how Power Apps can enhance your business today — contact us to get started.
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