A citizen developer is a non-technical business user who has little or no coding experience. However, they are still able to use low-code and no-code (LC/NC) tools to create useful applications. As a result, they are able to participate in development processes that use LC/NC tools, which can save time and resources for organizations.
“Most of the time, the work of a citizen developer is not directly requested by the manager or department but comes from a frustration with a process,” said Frédéric Harper, director of developer relations at Mindee.
Moreover, research from IDC claims that citizen developers will become increasingly important, with estimates that they will create over 500 million apps by 2023.
“Citizen developers are often in a better position than anyone else in their company to understand the gaps in processes and the business problems that need to be solved,” said Micah Smith, senior director of developer evangelism at Automation Anywhere.
Yet there are challenges. Let’s take a look at how you can best leverage citizen developers.
What Do Citizen Developers Do?
The citizen developer is a role that dates back to the 1980s. When Lotus 123 was the popular spreadsheet, there was the capability to create macros, which allowed business users to make sophisticated automations. This trend would continue as Microsoft Excel became the dominant platform.
While macros were powerful, they also could lead to major problems, including a lack of documentation. When a citizen developer leaves, it could be extremely difficult to adapt the macros. And the sprawl of macros may also conflict with other IT systems and make it difficult to manage.
Fortunately, citizen developers currently have access to LC/NC tools that are built for them. These platforms are not only easy to use but allow for integration with existing applications as well as systems for governance and compliance.
“This is where we see citizen developers shining today, working on marketing and customer interactions, putting together user experiences like surveys, forms, and other marketing-related activities,” said Christian Kelly, managing director at Accenture. “Internally, this translates into users configuring business applications to better serve their own needs.”
RPA (robotic process automation) has also been essential to citizen developers. This technology makes it easier to automate tedious and repetitive processes, which can allow for strong ROI (return on investment).
“The most commonly used RPA interface is the studio, allowing users to create and configure automation wizards in minutes,” said Harel Tayeb, CEO at Kryon. “Users without coding experience should be able to interact with a wizard design tool and easily create a bot.”
No doubt, finding and retaining tech talent is an enormous challenge. You need to compete against many companies, and the impact of COVID-19 affected much of the workforce, as many people reevaluated their career goals and paths.
Aside from that, experienced developers can also require a much higher compensation package that some smaller or mid-sized businesses can’t compete with. Using citizen developers can help with the talent shortage as well as alleviate the burden on IT teams.
Some other advantages may also include increased innovation and the development of custom apps.
By employing citizen developers, you broaden the number of employees who can make contributions.
“Citizen developers often identify automation opportunities that go unnoticed by technical leaders,” said Palak Kadakia, VP of product management at UiPath. “They are an organization’s eyes and ears at the grassroots-level for inspiration.”
Because of the domain expertise of citizen developers, they can create apps that are tailored to an organization’s particular needs.
“The most obvious benefit of the rise of citizen developers is the democratization of value-creation within an organization,” said Kelly. “Thanks to citizen developers, businesses have the ability to move faster and create more value for both internal and external stakeholders.”
Getting Real Value
To be successful with citizen developers, there needs to be a balance between independence and maintaining the requirements for security and quality. While LC/NC and RPA tools often have guardrails built in, there still needs to be a clear understanding of the policies. This can take time, and there will certainly still be mistakes along the way.
“Citizen developers’ main role is to solve a specific problem for themselves and their teammates, not rectify all technological inefficiencies across the business,” said Rachel Brennan, vice president at Bizagi.
But the benefits of citizen developers should outweigh the potential issues. A key is having a culture of experimentation and innovation.
“The process of creating digital products using these tools is a great way of increasing collaboration, bringing together IT and business leaders as never before,” said Kinjan Shah, senior architect at Infostretch.
In other words, it is not meant as a replacement for IT staff. They will continue to build mission-critical applications and systems.
“As citizen developers address their own technical hurdles themselves, IT organizations see their backlogs thin out, freeing up time and resources to focus on more-strategic projects such as digital transformation,” said Rich Waldron, CEO and co-founder at Tray.io.