What It’s Like to Be a ‘Citizen Developer’

    I’ve written about the emergence of “citizen developers,” but so far only from the perspective of the low-code platform providers who make it possible for people with little or no software development or IT background to develop apps for their businesses. So when the opportunity arose to speak directly with a citizen developer, I jumped at it.

    I’m referring to Roger Benedict, owner and president of Ruggs Benedict Carpet One Floor & Home, a retail floor covering store in Avon, Colorado. Benedict, who has no IT background, built the apps to run his business using FileMaker, Apple’s database and app development platform.

    In a recent interview, Benedict explained how he became a citizen developer this way:

    One of the biggest struggles for a small business owner is to figure out and implement the business operating systems and behaviors that they need in order for their business to keep growing. I’m kind of like Joe the Plumber, who started out as a really good plumber, and ended up with a plumbing company. Not too far into the process, you have to understand that your job now has nothing to do with plumbing — it has to do with how to run a business. So that was my attraction to FileMaker — it made it easier for me to make repetitive behaviors for operating the business, whether it’s the warehouse guy checking in a shipment of rolls of carpet, or the salesperson creating an estimate, or wherever we are in the behavior path that leads to a flooring sale. I’ve just used FileMaker to make those step-by-step, repeatable behaviors easy.

    Benedict went on to explain the process he’s adopted:

    It starts with CRM, where you enter a customer and start a project, and then it’s really easy from there to do all of the associated things you need to do to push that project through to completion. You can create an estimate, you can special-order a carpet sample, you can schedule the installation. In every step of the process, I’ve made a little step-by-step app to handle just that one thing. But then with FileMaker, you can hook those individual apps together, and make a whole running solution out of them.

    While a lot of citizen developers focus on developing mobile apps, Benedict said his focus is on developing in-store apps:

    FileMaker runs really nicely on desktops, whether they’re Mac- or Windows-based. The bulk of my people like to work on big screens with everything they want in front of them. This runs big-screen, it also runs really well on iPads. My warehouse runs completely on iPads — there’s not even a computer in the building. So it runs either way. Because most of our work is done right here on-site as far as working with customers, doing estimates, and selling carpet, wood, and area rugs, we don’t really use the mobile technology as much as other people that have a lot more going on out in the field. Ours is pretty much focused on just running our own store here.

    I asked Benedict what he’s unable to do with FileMaker that he would like to be able to do. He said so far, he hasn’t run into that problem:

    Whenever I come up with something that I would like to do, I can study a little more FileMaker developer stuff and I can do it. For instance, accounting for a small business becomes important, and one of the neat things about FileMaker is that they have plug-ins available that, once you align your accounting fields to them, they can stuff all your data into QuickBooks Enterprise. So our entire store accounting is actually done in QuickBooks, and what our accounting person does is once we’re really, really done with a job, and we know everything is correct, she can look it over and check the costs and the details, and just push a button and it shoves it into QuickBooks. And then we do the bill paying and the receivables and everything out of QuickBooks. It’s just a single step, but it’s nice to have that review, also. So you have those sorts of connectivity capabilities.

    Another connectivity capability that Benedict said he uses is connectivity to email:

    For instance, if a salesperson is doing a sales order or an estimate, when they’ve finished all the calculations and they’ve got it just right, they just push a button to email it to a customer. It creates the email, pops it up on the screen with the estimate attached, and with room to write a note and send it on — you never leave the order. So that sort of connectivity to outside capabilities is really nice — if you hit something that FileMaker itself won’t do, you can connect to something ready-built, like mail or QuickBooks, to do that.

    Benedict wrapped up the conversation with an interesting analogy — working with FileMaker, he said, is kind of like playing with Legos:

    I think what FileMaker has found is there are people like me who have used their product to develop exactly what they want to develop, to make their business run the way they want it to run. I’m in a lot deeper than most, because I’ve been at it for a lot longer, and have quite a bit at stake in it. But any small business owner that’s in need of making up some repetitive behaviors as they grow, can use FileMaker to do that pretty quickly. They’ve made it so easy to build what you want to build, it’s like working with Legos.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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