Citizen developers are 1) the people within organizations who understand specific problems, 2) take the initiative to solve it on their own, and 3) do so by using low-code or no-code tools approved by their IT department.
Each of these characteristics is vitally important to understanding the full potential of the citizen developer, so we want to spend a little time on each.
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Citizen developers understand the problem
Citizen developers are our boots on the ground. These are the people in your business or organization who are managing processes, fulfilling requests, and doing the action that creates value for your business. They have their hands on workflows and tasks, may be in direct contact with customers, and know their departments’ needs inside and out.
Their proximity to the workflows and tasks makes them ideal candidates for optimizing the processes for which they are responsible. This is critical because they know the processes better than anyone else, and they can distinguish between problems that they can solve on their own versus problems requiring a solution from IT or software developers.
Businesses have much to gain from empowering citizen developers with the right tools to solve their problems, but one immediate benefit will be a reduction in the bottleneck of requests to IT. That’s because teams will no longer throw everything over the wall: they’ll have the opportunity to determine if it’s something that can be handled internally, or if it is an issue that truly deserves IT time and budget.
“Not all workers are tech savvy. But users do need to have an in-depth understanding of specific processes and customer engagement challenges weighing their company down. They might lack the expertise to build using traditional programming, but they can create rich applications using graphical building tools.” — John Everhard, Forbes
Team members who take initiative
The people most likely to step into the role of a citizen developer are team members who analyze processes and look for ways to improve their workflows and tasks. Their goals may be more focused on making work easier, less stressful, or more organized, but often the result is a better process that delivers additional value to their enterprise.
Another earmark of a future citizen developer is an interest in process automation. The prospect of reducing or eliminating repetitive tasks appeals to citizen developers because they understand how their time is best spent.
Automation solutions can deliver relief to teams who are burdened or burned out from managing tasks that should ideally be handled by a tool or software. Once automation is introduced into the workflow, these teams are free to focus on higher-level priorities.
They create solutions using no-code and low-code tools
We talk more about low-code and no-code solutions in another article, but we want to spend some time on the topic here, because low-code and no-code software are the tools on which citizen developers rely to solve problems and optimize processes.
No-code development platforms (NCDP) and low-code development platforms (LCDP) allow users without advanced software engineering skills to solve problems within the enterprise. These platforms do this by providing a graphical user interface (GUI) that relies on visual or drag-and-drop capabilities instead of hand coding. Citizen developers use these no-code and low-code tools to develop applications, perfect workflows, introduce citizen automation, and to visualize and improve processes.
|Large enterprises will use at least 4 low-code development tools by 2024 (Gartner)
Citizen development ≠ shadow IT
It is important to note the difference between citizen developers and shadow IT. Citizen developers address workflow and process issues by deploying low-code and no-code software that has been vetted and sanctioned by their IT teams. This is important, because it means IT can monitor for security issues and, if debugging skills are ever required, the IT team will be prepared to step in.
Shadow IT, on the other hand, relies on the use of software and applications without the IT department’s approval or awareness. Shadow IT introduces unnecessary risks to enterprises and creates a patchwork of software solutions that lack centralized control and oversight.
Low-code and no-code tools provide a more secure, manageable alternative.
What’s next: citizen automation
One area of focus for citizen developer initiatives is that of “citizen automation.” It’s a less well-known term for now, but businesses will hear a lot about it in the coming months.
Citizen automators are citizen developers who identify opportunities to improve workflows and processes by using no code and low code tools to automate tasks wherever possible. These automations have four primary benefits:
- Alleviating stress and frustration by reducing the amount of time employees spend on repetitive, low-level tasks.
- Allowing employees to instead focus their time and attention on work that creates value for the business.
- Bringing consistency and accuracy to workflows by ensuring that tasks are completed the same way each time.
- Adding value to the enterprise by increasing efficiency and unlocking previously unavailable resources.
Citizen automators’ proximity to the work, as well as their insights and experience, make them uniquely positioned to find these opportunities to streamline and collapse workflows for the benefit of the business and its customers.
Citizen developers are the inevitable future
The business case for citizen development is compelling: IT budgets will stabilize, bottlenecks will be resolved, and agility will increase as no-code and low-code tools accelerate the speed of problem-solving. And by using IT-sanctioned platforms and implementing guardrails, the risks to enterprise infrastructure are minimal.
The human case for citizen development is no less alluring. Everyone in the enterprise benefits when those most intimately familiar with the challenges are part of the solution. The democratization of problem-solving alleviates unnecessary burdens on the IT department and diffuses responsibility (as well as buy-in) throughout the organization.
Citizen developers already know the obstacles and inefficiencies hidden within their workflows and processes. Once empowered with the right tools to solve them, these leaders take more active roles in collaboration and build a better work environment for themselves and others.