Can Citizen Development Really Change Your World?

Can Citizen Development Really Change Your World?

This 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:

Pros 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 will be:

  • 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 Support
  • Business Analyst
  • User Experience Designer
  • Front-end Web Designer
  • Application Administrator

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.