What are Citizen Developers?
The term “citizen developer” has been around for quite some time, however it became more prominent over the last few years when organisations started to go through a digital transformation.
The term citizen developer describes highly creative and driven problems solvers in the enterprise who engage in the development of business applications using out-of-box and low-code tools. They typically create self-service business applications, used internally within their organisation.
This type of person usually doesn’t have formal programming training and application development isn’t part of their job. However, they do have solid knowledge and expertise in the specific areas of their business. They’re creative and able to come up with ideas which improve internal operations, so when they’re given technical tools that involve minimal coding—or even none, for the first iteration of their project—they often get results. Fast!
Why you should embrace Citizen Developers
Better utilise your front-line knowledge and skills
Employees that are on the front line of departments and involved in the daily “job to be done” are in the perfect position to spot opportunities for business process improvements.
These improvements can be as simple as reducing inefficiencies and increasing productivity by transforming a paper-based form into an online form.
The perfect example of low-code tools that citizen developers create major impact with is Microsoft Forms and Microsoft Flow. Non-technical users quickly grasp enough to create simple approval workflows, which they use to avoid time-consuming “follow-up” requests. Once users understand what technology is available to them and how easily they can automate some of their repetitive daily activities, they feel empowered to learn more and their ability with the tools increases. Best of all, the knowledge specific to them and their department is utilised to a greater extent for the organisation as a whole.
Drive innovation within the organisation
In today’s world, every organisation is an IT business—even if they’re not a tech company. It’s impossible for them to survive without a high reliance on technology.
By providing low-code tools to employees and encouraging them to use their critical thinking and creativity, you unlock a source of innovation directly concerned with day-to-day activities. While the results are often more tactical than strategic, the impact can be significant. Particularly since the people involved and their perspective may be entirely untapped.
This mindset and engagement with front-line staff is also attractive to prospective employees who are looking for innovative organisations to join.
Streamline digital transformation
Digital transformation is a very challenging, ongoing activity which affects all enterprises. There is lots of pressure on IT departments to roll out new technologies that help achieve higher return on investment. Having employees outside the IT department that can build low-code solutions supports the digitisation process and reduces operational expenses.
Having an extra set of hands always helps. IT departments are not always in a position to understand and improve all the business processes they’re expected to support.
For example, many organisations still use paper-based forms which, once completed, need to be reviewed and signed off by multiple stakeholders. To turn that into an on-line process, you need a deep understanding of the workflow itself and how it relates to the department and people it touches. It can take a lot of effort for an IT department to familiarize themselves with those kinds of requirements, but a citizen developer knows them already.
Digitising simple, paper-based forms is often the first positive impact citizen developers have on overall productivity.
How to support your Citizen Developers
Training and mentoring
Citizen developers are already tech-savvy and motivated individuals, but they still need support and training to further improve their skill sets. They inevitably grow more confident with encouragement and look for new technologies to learn. Effective IT departments mentor their citizen developers with programs sponsored by the organisation’s decision-makers.
IT departments should provide citizen developers with governance models that include application lifecycle management. These governance models not only encourage iterative improvements to the applications being created; they also provide a means for the organisation to focus development effort on areas that will see the most benefit.
CIOs and IT Managers should communicate the initiatives delivered by citizen developers to the rest of the organisation. This kind of broad recognition fosters a workplace culture that supports their professional growth—as individuals and as a group—and the ongoing innovation they create.
Overall, supporting citizen developers comes with noticeable benefits, such as reduced operational cost, improved productivity and better alignment between IT and the business. Organisations who invest in citizen developers will have a wide calibre of people to support their digital transformation. While IT departments focus on delivering complex solutions, citizen developers will deliver quick wins with positive impact.