Business environments are changing faster than ever before, and business leaders are feeling the pressure.

Organizations are revisiting their business strategies and operating models to stay relevant in a highly competitive market. They are constantly looking for ways to deliver better customer experiences and address inefficiencies in their operations to optimize costs and gain new business.  Digital transformation is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Businesses are looking for digital solutions that can deliver results fast and are agile to help them pivot when required. The demand for IT solutions is skyrocketing. This is putting pressure on the central IT teams who are unable to meet the demand due to high costs and unavailability of skilled professional developers resulting in IT backlogs and frustrated business units.

This is where citizen development comes in.

What is citizen development?

Citizen development is the process of non-technical users building and developing custom software applications for either their own consumption or for their team with minimal coding or no coding at all.

These applications are created using development methods and runtime environments that are approved and sanctioned by the IT department, which separates this from the concept of shadow IT.

Citizen developers are generally members of business units who want a solution for their unique problem and are ready to take advantage of new tools and applications to solve these issues themselves.

Since digital dexterity is on the rise, most employees have the potential to become citizen developers who can create applications on their own given the right tools. Currently, citizen development is most prevalent in departments like HR, operations and admin, R&D, finance, customer service, and others.

Why is citizen development on the rise?

Rising IT backlogs and the shortage of skilled professional developer is evident across organizations in all industries.  Industry research estimates that by 2024, there will be a deficit of 500,000 developers in the US.

On top of that, as technology has gained a more important place in our lives through the introduction of various gadgets and tools, there has been a rise in digital literacy. The ease with which employees can use and apply different features of today’s technology is unparalleled, and it bodes well for introducing additional innovative tools. This is incredibly beneficial to companies as they can harness it to encourage employees to create the digital solutions they need.

This is where citizen development can help.

Citizen development provides a method for companies to address the IT backlog issue by enabling non-technical employees to create the applications they need without writing any code. As applications can also be created significantly faster, this saves time and money for the organization while allowing the IT department to focus on strategic ventures.

Citizen developers are business users and employees first, which means that they are constantly on the lookout for the best solution to a business problem instead of focusing on the technology they are using.

How have low-code/no-code tools helped democratize development?

As business users have become more interested in finding and creating digital solutions to their problems, this has led to a surge in creating tools specifically directed toward non-technical users.

Citizen developers don’t have a wealth of knowledge regarding coding, so these new tools have built-in features to enable citizen developers to build digital applications with very little (low-code) or no-coding (no-code) at all. These tools are broadly classified as low-code no-code (LCNC) tools.

Low-code no-code tools provide an intuitive visual and graphic interface where users can assemble multiple “blocks” of pre-written code into the structure that they want, just like using lego blocks. 

By abstracting the code and assembling it into “blocks,” these tools allow users to mix and match the elements they need, leading to efficient and easy application development. These tools can help in various industries and functions, including application development, automation, workflow management, business process management, and more.

No-code tools are geared strictly toward non-technical employees who cannot code at all. This enables them to diversify their talents and opportunities and reduce the burden on the IT department. Business users can easily use these tools to automate their repetitive tasks, eliminate paperwork and become more efficient. 

On the other hand, low-code tools are geared toward individuals who have some pre-existing knowledge of coding. Unlike no-code tools, low-code tools allow users to write custom code making it more flexible in customization. However, low-code tools need more governance as they are susceptible to security threats introduced through handwritten code by the citizen developers.

Low-code and no-code tools serve a different purpose and have managed to spur citizen development by providing efficient tools for both technical and non-technical users alike. This helps with democratizing development, as any employee can utilize these tools to create their own bespoke solutions, where earlier they would have had to ask the IT department to help. 

This also provides the citizen developers an opportunity to utilize their domain knowledge and personal understanding of problems that they face to create applications that solve very specialized issues in the industry. Solving such a problem would be more challenging for a member of the IT department due to a lack of in-depth knowledge of the business problems and their corresponding solutions.

A breakdown of low-code no-code solutions

Today low-code no-code tools can be used for a wide variety of applications. Here are some of the popular ones:

  • Business applications: These are tools that can help you create a wide range of enterprise-grade applications without writing a single line of code. You can also automate your workflows easily.
  •  Chatbots: Chatbots can make CRM a breeze. Using tools like these, companies have been able to create custom AI chatbots that can ensure that customers get the best experience possible while generating further leads.
  • Design: With millions of pre-existing templates, graphics, vectors, fonts, and color palettes, tools like these make designing graphics on a professional level a breeze.
  • Databases and spreadsheets: Data is key, and sharing it has become a little tough due to the sheer volume. Tools like these can help users collaborate and share large amounts of data easily and remotely.
  • Forms and surveys: Tools like these help create professional and good-looking forms using online form builders. These tools’ diverse customization capabilities ensure a distinctive style without having to code a single part of the form.
  •  Integrations: These tools can help users seamlessly connect all of the cloud-based applications that they are using so that data can be shared and integrated easily.
  • Mobile applications: Mobile users are steadily on the rise, and thus tools like this help individuals create mobile applications without needing to know how to code.
  • Productivity: These tools help business users manage their various tasks and data, leading to better project management and data management.
  • Newsletters: These tools have simplified email marketing by automating the processes needed for delivering the newsletters to the right people at the right time, using the right channels.
  • Website builders: Building a website has become as easy as a few clicks due to these tools. Regardless of its size, every business can now have a fully functional website without needing to spend time coding it.

Citizen developers vs. professional developers

As citizen development rises in popularity, it’s fulfilling specific needs in the market for developers; the deficit created due to a lack of professional developers in the industry who can help companies achieve their digital and technological goals. However, there are multiple types of citizen developers who have different interests and strengths.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of citizen developers:

Here are a few fundamental aspects which can help differentiate between citizen developers and professional developers:

 

Citizen developer

Professional developer

Coding knowledge

No formal training

Formal training along with knowledge of coding languages.

Type of job

Employed in departments other than IT such as HR, admin, marketing, finance.

Employed in the IT department

Method of application development

Proficient in low-code or no-code tools

Proficient in manual coding as well as using low-code tools

How can citizen development help you and your company?

Every company can benefit from introducing citizen development to their employees, regardless of their size or scale. Citizen development can help you mobilize your workforce toward solving unique problems through various low-code and no-code tools. 

This shift toward encouraging innovation and increasing efficiency can have a far-reaching impact on fostering a forward-thinking and digitally dexterous workforce. Citizen development equips those closest to the business to address their challenges without depending on central IT teams.

There are numerous benefits to using citizen development in your company; here are just a few:

Advantages and disadvantages of citizen development

Citizen development is a trend that can help a business become more productive and reach its goals consistently by democratizing development. Here are a few advantages and disadvantages to this phenomenon. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

How can you govern citizen development at your company?

Citizen development can sometimes feel uncontrollable as it is based on the idea of giving your employees the freedom to create and build whatever tools and applications they need. However, without a well-designed method of governance, citizen development could turn into shadow IT quickly.

Shadow IT is the use of hardware or software by an employee that has not been permitted or cross-checked by the IT department. Unsanctioned software and hardware run the risk of causing security challenges, lack of standardization, slow implementation, and lack of modernization in the long run.

However, governing your citizen development with the following tips can turn shadow IT into your frenemy.

  • Providing a controlled environment: A secure platform can help citizen developers create what they want without the risk of security gaps. A centralized and monitored no-code or low-code platform can ensure that your citizen developers can freely create their MVPs, applications, and workflows. The IT department can also view the progress on ongoing projects, keep track of new initiatives and share information easily through a controlled platform.
  • Training: Providing your citizen developers with guidance can help them progress faster in their no-code, low-code journey. Some tips and advice can go a long way when encouraging your employees to learn new software or tool, leading to better output in less time. As your citizen developers gain more confidence and skills, keep an eye out for innovative solutions that’ll blow your mind!
  • Collaborate with IT: Citizen developers have a lot to learn from those in the IT department who have been in this industry since the beginning. Collaborating with IT on specific projects can give them an insight into the inner workings of the IT department and give IT the chance to monitor the actions of the citizen developers closely.
  • Support on a cultural level: The entire organization has to be on the same page when it comes to new initiatives like this. The organizational culture needs to be supportive of the citizen development initiative. This support will go a long way in ensuring that citizen development can help with continuous adaptation and improvement to other systems as well as encouraging flexibility and agility on an enterprise level.

How can citizen development impact digital transformation?

Digital transformation is a buzzword that’s been on everyone’s mind currently. Digital transformation is the process of using digital technology and software to enhance or rethink strategies, products, and assets to deliver the best value on an enterprise level.

This process has become exceedingly important in our technology-dominated world. Each company needs to be able to put its best foot forward through its digital presence and processes. This can be done by digitally transforming the company from the ground up.

Citizen development can help spur on digital transformation by empowering business users with tools that enable them to create the applications that they need. More and more companies have already started reaping the benefits of this initiative with an increased focus on introducing citizen development tools to their employees. 

Citizen developers have in-depth knowledge about their daily roles and requirements, so it makes sense that they’re the best people to find repetitive and time-consuming processes and tasks that can be automated to save time and money. Utilizing no-code and low-code applications has allowed non-technical users without any knowledge of coding to create enterprise-grade applications and automate workflows easily.

Empowering the workforce with easy-to-use technology that can simplify their daily work and create a more productive environment is perfect for encouraging digital transformation on the whole. With some technical training and governance, these business users can also help lessen the burden on the IT department, leading to an increased focus on enterprise-wide holistic solutions.

Citizen development also helps to promote increased digital dexterity throughout the organization, which can lead to the employees picking up technology more quickly and easily in the future.

Which resources can I refer to for more information? 

Everyone is curious about citizen development and digital transformation, and some of the best resources are available on the web in the form of podcasts, eBooks, websites, forums, and more. You can check out a few great resources through this list.

Motivated and technologically-adept individuals at all levels of the company can become frontrunners for this initiative, leading to more efficiency and more productivity. 

Utilizing no-code and low-code tools can also help you speed up your digital transformation journey, especially if the entire workforce is involved in coming up with innovative and creative solutions for unique problems. Citizen development might be the key to ensuring that digital transformation goes smoothly in your company.