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  • Digital Evolution Forum

Automating the frontline: How You Can Succeed with a Citizen Developer Programme

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

The world and the nature of work have changed. Organisations now operate in a business environment that is increasingly uncertain, ambiguous, and complex. Digital roadmaps, once measured in years are now measured in months or weeks.

Rapidly changing customer expectations, the consumerization of technology, and an increasing number of unexpected events necessitate organisation and workforce flexibility. As such, every aspect of business needs to move faster.

Never before has an organisation's ability to exploit digital technologies and digital talent been such a key determinant of their immediate and future success. Organisations, and their workforce, must become as digitally nimble as their rapidly shifting market.

Yet central technology teams no longer have the time nor sufficient numbers of technical resources they need to accelerate and scale digital programs at the speed of which they are currently demanded.

New entrants to the workforce are no longer willing to wait on IT departments to solve their IT challenges. The 'digerati' are figuring out ways to solve their problems and their organisation's customers’ problems without IT help.

Across a global employee base, organisations with high digital dexterity have as much coding and technology talent as likely found in IT departments several years ago. And progressive organisations are taking advantage of this group of ‘digital natives’ entering their workforce and creating ‘citizen developers’.

What is a citizen developer?

Citizen Developers are non-traditional technologists who use low-code-no-code tools

and other platforms to program in a way that would have required deep technical acumen in the past. A Citizen Developer can use drag-and-drop application components, then connect them, to design and build powerful applications, which can grow and adapt according to the needs of a business.

They are computer users with no formal background in computer science or software

engineering but who have access to development environments and digital workplace tools traditionally owned by IT. Citizen Developers are organised, hardworking, creative problem solvers, who want to make a positive impact on their way of working and on the business in which they operate.

Citizen Developers are not a new concept. For example, WordPress has made web development accessible without the need for seasoned web developers.

How can citizen developers deliver results for your business?

Research shows organisations that integrate technological and people architectures enjoy widespread innovation and outperform their peers. Companies with high technology intensity have doubled their growth rate on average compared to those with low technology intensity.

Progressive organisations are using groups of ‘citizen developers’ to explore and develop new technology-intensive digital solutions to better serve their business's needs.

And they are putting the right software, security and governance guardrails in place to make sure the organisation is not exposed to unnecessary risk.

They hope that multiple individuals will conceive, design, and deliver the functionality users need to help clear application development backlogs and to create an internal innovation engine they hope will drive future success.

It is in a digitally dexterous environment that workers feel most empowered to stay to innovate and collaborate and to take calculated risks to achieve business goals.

Is a citizen developer program right for your business?

At their very best, Citizen Developer programs can reduce frustration amongst capable business users; address the shortage of expensive developers; avoid business units missing income or cost savings targets; accelerate digital transformation; support a business hit strategic business transformation goals; increase responsiveness to the business; boost productivity; break down silos by encouraging cooperation and communication to help organisations gain competitive advantage.

The best information technology functions and centres of excellence are becoming centres of empowerment. Rather than maintaining tight control on technology and limiting or slowing innovation, IT is working to democratise digital, automation, technology and analytics capabilities. They maintain excellent risk frameworks but with a sense of proportion that reflects an organisation's need for digital agility and security.

What you need to watch out for when bringing on citizen developers

Will Citizen Developers become the new normal? Will everyone learn to code a robot just like everyone knows Microsoft Word before they ever started a real job?

Employees want to see their organizations do more to encourage and support their work. This opens the door to innovation, and new ways of accomplishing goals, which may have not been apparent before now.

Yet organisations find it hard to identify, nurture and retain individuals with the right aptitude and attitude to become Citizen Developers. Quite often a lack of IT responsiveness to massively broaden the number of people engaged in technology-enabled delivery makes program success unlikely.

And despite vendor claims, not everyone has the logical mindset required to produce code that makes a substantive difference to their transformation programs. This is particularly true when existing business processes are unsuited to digitisation or automation.

So, what should you do?

This is no time for timidity. The key to success with Citizen Developers is to abandon the idea that only experienced 'code' developers can deliver useful applications and digital tools. An organization that is more flexible in its approach to IT and software development will foster greater collaboration between business departments and IT which will result in more usable business outputs. Remember, what seemed technologically impossible or improbable several years ago has become today’s reality.

Citizen Developer programs will require new approaches to managing the life-cycle of software and solutions.

For Citizen Developer programs will require new approaches to managing the life-cycle of software and solutions. They must be given; the right training, digital applications and technology environment, coaching and mentorship. as well as the right kind of executive sponsorship and IT support to succeed.

Road ahead

Citizen Developer programs are not without risk, but they may be a risk worth taking. We are at the beginning of a new era of automation, digitisation and analytics powered competition and there is still a way to go. For the nimble and adventurous, the opportunities low-code/no-code technology present is incredible.

This does not mean that organisations can avoid the need for exceptional technical architects, IT solution designers, security experts, experienced developers, business analysts, or testers to build and deploy digital tools.

There are no shortcuts to an organisation’s digital evolution. Organisations must develop a new perspective about the kind of work machines should do, and where humans add the most value. The successful firms of the future will be those that can leverage data, code algorithms to augment all their human talent to innovatively meet customer multi-experience needs.

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