Dispelling myths surrounding citizen developers

ByFreda D. Cuevas

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The term “citizen developer” has become increasingly common with companies accelerating their digital transformation efforts. These individuals hold various roles at organizations but share a common ambition: to conceive and build task-based apps that streamline work or improve operations in their business area. 

Through their insider knowledge, these employees are able to generate new web or mobile applications that solve specific business problems and speed daily work. Citizen developers typically use no-code or low-code software to build these apps. 

According to Gartner’s prediction, citizen developers will soon outnumber professional developers by a ratio of 4:1. Although these business analysts or business domain experts have no formal training in using development tools or writing code, they’re succeeding at creating valuable business applications. Gartner recommends that organizations embrace citizen developers to achieve strategic goals and remain competitive in an increasingly mobile business world. 

Despite the rise of citizen developers within organizations, many companies still dismiss the value and importance of citizen development. Let’s dispel some of the most common myths. 

1. Low-code applications can’t compete with enterprise-grade applications

A common myth surrounding citizen development is that low-code applications cannot meet the requirements of enterprise-grade applications. Enterprise-grade applications are built to support consistent integration with other applications and the existing IT framework, with the term “enterprise-grade” being coined as IT became increasingly consumerized. Because low-code development delivers business apps without needing large amounts of programming, the longstanding belief is that low-code doesn’t have the capacity to meet enterprise standards. This is no longer true. 

Typically, citizen developers build low-code or no-code (LC/NC) apps for a specific business purpose, such as bridging gaps between systems or automating routine processes to improve team productivity. Often, limited scope, task-based apps are created by citizen developers, while large scope apps with complex security and data requirements are still produced by professional developers, using mainstream programming languages. Usually, LC/NC software comes with predesigned templates or drag-and-drop interfaces that consider best development practices, common enterprise requirements and routine IT practices. The software guides citizen developers to create needed apps quickly while adhering to the best app design and development practices. This allows more employees to make great mobile and cloud applications that speed business tasks, while minimizing risk to the organization. 

Because enterprise-grade applications are increasingly being designed to be scalable and robust across the environments they’re used in, the technicalities and predesigned nature of low-code development can match the required standards set by enterprise-grade apps. Thanks to low-code platforms, complete enterprise-grade applications can be developed within days, contributing to why company executive are increasingly making low-code development their most significant automation investment.

2. Alleged security risks that accompany citizen development

Security is a vital component of any application. With security breaches on the rise and outcomes severe, like ransomware, addressing security issues must be of utmost importance to any organization considering citizen development. Data security is usually the responsibility of the IT departments, which identify and migrate any security risks as they develop apps. However, just because an application is developed by a citizen developer using LC/NC software tools, doesn’t mean there will necessarily be heightened security risks. According to recent forecasts, LC/NC applications will account for 65% of development activity within the next two years. To meet these enterprise expectations, most low-code platforms now come with built-in security features or code scans to enforce standard security practices. Vendors of LC/NC software tools now include a wide range of built-in security features, such as file monitoring, user control and code validation. 

While security features in LC/NC software are becoming more extensive, IT departments should make sure any development software used by the company has been vetted and adheres to company security policies. In addition, having an IT approval process for apps before they’re officially used could be a wise policy for IT teams to establish. 

3. Citizen development creates shadow IT

Another widespread myth about citizen development is the creation of shadow IT groups, outside the designated ones. This means application development can become unmanaged, ungoverned and of questionable quality. The reality can be very different. Many organizations struggle with low IT funding and resources. In these cases, citizen development can come to the rescue to provide rapid business solutions to meet rapidly changing business needs. The key to overcoming the risk of shadow IT in these situations is to establish strong governance and collaboration over the process. 

Instead of slowing the efforts of citizen developers, IT teams should encourage these new app creators by providing guidelines and resources for app creation that are in line with the best IT practices. One way is by sanctioning an approved LC/NC development tool. Some LC/NC platforms used by citizen developers are designed to eliminate technical complexity and provide complete transparency, control and governance, based on the users’ business needs. 

LC/NC platforms can also enable an environment of collaboration between citizen developers and the IT department, allowing the IT to maintain control over the development process.

A second way to encourage citizen development is to introduce certifications and badges for citizen developers to celebrate app design or app development accomplishments. 

The true benefits of citizen developers

Citizen developers can accelerate transformative efforts by using LC/NC software to build their own applications. Since citizen developers are usually employees in key areas within the organization, they are most aware of unique business needs, and thus, can develop mobile applications that specifically cater to the business. LC/NC software solutions provide virtually any of these employees with the ability to build mobile applications and, thereby, assist in the company’s transformation. The cost benefits are huge. 

Companies can introduce innovative apps, save work hours and attract more revenue. Companies can save significant money by not having to hire specialized developers or outsource app development projects. Additionally, citizen developers can use LC/NC software based on prebuilt modules that make software development many times faster than starting from square one. This reduces the time required to develop, design, test and deploy apps. 

Citizen development is neither just a fad to overpower IT teams, nor does it mean that employees will be left to themselves. IT departments can maintain a key huge role in providing adequate resources and supporting the company’s digital transformation efforts. The benefits of citizen development far overweigh the risks. 

However, business organizations must foster a collaborative effort between their citizen developer employees and IT departments to meet business needs and maintain competitive advantage. 

Instead of IT acting as a gatekeeper to technical innovation and digital transformation, IT teams should seek to empower citizen developers and work with them to solve business/technical problems. 

Amy Groden-Morrison is VP of marketing and sales operation for Alpha Software


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