Can Citizen Development Really Change Your World?
is one of the best scenes in sitcom history. Feel free to argue the point.
You’re wrong. As soon as Gomer (Jim Nabors) starts screaming, “Citizen’s Arrest!
Citizen’s Arrest!” you know things are about to get crazy.
Lately, a new term has cropped up the business world due to our overwhelming demand
for digital content, capability and connection. The last three years have taught
many organizations that they have huge gaps in their digital abilities and cannot
fulfill those needs fast enough with the IT staff they have or find the talent out
in the world.
Enter the citizen developer. Citizen development helps businesses automate and s
treamline without the use of their IT team. Other groups within an organization
can create applications with low-code/no-code solutions that are overseen by IT,
not originated there. This delivers products that end-user business departments
need without overloading already stressed IT departments.
But how does this work? Accountants and Supply Chain managers and Salespeople can’t
code! They don’t need to. A multitude of citizen development platforms have been
developed that can be vetted by IT and allow your business units to do the work
safely and efficiently. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get into the
business case and how this all comes together.
The Rise of Citizen Development
With the invention of the smartphone app, came the low-code and no-code platform.
Anyone could become a developer and create a product for the masses. This eventually
translated into the business world because IT developers saw that these tools could
allow business teams to solve their own problems, providing greater autonomy and greater
employee satisfaction. As with any new process, there are pros and cons:
Greater Employee Autonomy
Blurring Boundary between IT and business units
Improved Employee Satisfaction
Enabling Citizen Developers and driving adoption of the tools
Reduced burden on IT
Inefficient or poorly designed applications/processes
Less need for training
Governing the platform
IT needed to manage the platform the developers used but with simple drag-and-drop design
and Excel-like interfaces and easy to use forms, the citizen development movement was born.
Challenges of the Development Platforms
While the low-code/no-code platforms created a host of solutions for the citizen developer
and the overwhelmed IT department, they also brought their share of issues. But if these
challenges are handled appropriately, they can eventually strengthen the citizen development
process. As citizen developers become more adept at utilizing the platform and adopting the
technology, lifecycles will shrink and productivity will rise. Designs will become more
efficient and employees will be more satisfied with their work. Important in this process
Selecting the right cases for citizen development
Identifying the best potential team members to be citizen developers
Selecting the right platform
Defining a Center of Excellence (CoE) approach to benchmark a framework for success.
What are the Best Use Cases?
Not everything that needs to be fixed in a company can be done by citizen development.
But there is one area that is the best place to look for projects: automation. These are
routine processes that a business unit knows inside out that they are the best at designing
a technology solution for. Things like:
Task Automation: Any kind of notification, approval or smart form. HR, IT help desk
or facilities management may be key partners in these projects.
Workflow Automation: End-to-end process that connects systems or data and may
include some people interaction. Business processes and workflows within apps or
better user interfaces are examples.
Reasoning Automation: Intelligent processing, machine learning, chat bots, data
analytics which support activities like order tracking, inventory, reporting
analysis, contact management or data integration are good candidates.
On the flip side, do not use citizen development for strategic, critical business
applications such as ERP, supply chain or client applications.
Then once you have picked the right projects, match that with the right person.
Who are the Best Citizen Developers?
Not everyone will be cut out to be a citizen developer. While you don’t have to be able
to think like a programmer, it does require a certain skill set and identifying those
individuals is critical to success.
Good citizen developers will have a passion for problem solving. They will be the ones
who can see a situation and understand what the business needs. They enjoy exploring how
technology works and can make processes better. Some job titles within your company that
might make good citizen developers could include:
User Experience Designer
Front-end Web Designer
Lastly, there should be a point person within the IT department who is finding these citizen
developer leaders and overseeing their efforts. Do not make it an add-on to their existing
job, but something they can actually focus on and give proper energy to.
What is the Best Platform?
Answering the first two questions above will go a long way toward identifying what will
be a good match in a citizen development platform. Create a checklist of what tools and
functionality you will need. This might include:
Do products need to work on both desktop and mobile devices?
How user friendly does it need to be?
Do you need a database?
Do you need artificial intelligence (AI) now or in the future?
How much tech support will you need from the platform vendor?
What architecture components does the platform need to integrate with your company operations?
Can the platform scale with your business?
In addition, you’ll have to consider cost, security and other industry-specific situations.
How do I Best Get Citizen Development Started?
You’ve got a lot of good tools in place. But avoid the tendency to go from 0 to 60 right away.
The best plan is to start slowly. Look for a few small pilot projects where you can get your
feet wet. Having some quick successes will make everyone relax and feel good about the prospect
of what you’re attempting to do. After each project is completed, do a thorough debrief to
learn and improve so that you can have a plan in place to tackle larger more complex projects
in the future. Eventually, you will have a smooth operational system that benefits the
employees, the IT department, the organization and the clients.
A few things to consider: Make sure the roles of everyone are clear at the outset of a citizen
development project. Graying the lines between business and IT can be scary if everyone isn’t on
the same page. And be certain that there is common knowledge on data and security protocols to
ensure only those who need access to confidential information are allowed it. Again, this can
cause some awkward conversations if now spelled out in the beginning.
With all of this in place, any organization should be able to implement a successful citizen
development program and start increasing productivity right away.