What is a Citizen Developer? How Can You Harness the Power of Citizen Development?

Who are citizen developers? Do you even need citizen developers? What skills do they have? Moreover, should you be hiring citizen developers? Let’s jump right in for the answers!

It’s no surprise that every business today needs software or an app to handle various business functions. Every industry is currently reliant on multiple software, and hence on software developers.

SeedScientific reports that software developers’ employment is expected to grow at a whopping 22% in the coming decade. One of the most common open positions on a job searching site is that of a software developer. The demand for software developers is so high that the supply is falling short.

Citizen developers have come to the rescue of organizations to fill the gap between software developers’ demand and supply. Citizen developers help organizations create apps and software at a faster rate.

What is a Citizen Developer?

A citizen developer is a person without formal training in software development who develops software using low-code or no-code platforms. 

The concept is similar to that of citizen journalists in this regard. The term citizen is used to imply that the person is a layman and does not have extensive textbook knowledge about software development. 

Most organizations use citizen developers to create software for enterprise business applications or software that is to be used by a particular department for a specific purpose. These developers work under the IT department, and trained developers oversee their work to ensure that the end product meets the expectations. 

The advent of Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has enabled people with limited coding skills to develop sophisticated software.  

Even though formal training in software development is not a job requirement, certain qualities enable a citizen developer to become a star citizen developer. 

You must understand the need for the software and how the end-users will be using it. It helps you develop the right features for the product. You must also have strong problem-solving skills, a deep interest in learning about software development, the ability to take constructive criticism and work with little oversight. 

Why is Citizen Development on the Rise?

The role of citizen developers is relatively new, and many organizations are hearing the term for the first time and wondering what citizen development is. Once you understand citizen developers’ role, you will also understand how the role came about in response to a real need. 

More and more organizations are opting to digitize their operations. Most businesses have fully digitized their operations or are en route to complete digitization. In this regard, the IT department needs to coordinate the digitization and respond to the need for new solutions. 

Many IT teams are falling behind and have a huge backlog of IT solution requests.

With increased digitization and more awareness regarding new technologies, employees expect better IT solutions to efficiently do their job. When the IT department cannot keep up with the demand, employees choose to develop their own solutions.

One can often see unofficial apps in use in organizations. It is possible because of the numerous tools that enable those without formal training to create software and applications to meet their requirements. 

When IT departments realized that there are several unofficial and unauthorized apps developed by employees currently in use, the situation opened up a new possibility. 

Why not bring these apps under the umbrella of the IT department and make them official? 

Low-code or no-code platforms enable people with a basic understanding of business needs and problem-solving skills to create apps that can help a whole department or the entire enterprise.

How can I Benefit from the Citizen Developer Movement?

As you know, citizen development was born in response to the growing pressure on IT departments to develop solutions that enable digitizing various business processes faster. 

Benefits of Citizen Developers

Once businesses started accepting and empowering citizen developers, they started realizing its many benefits. 

  • Meeting The Demand For Apps

Employees have realized the power of apps and software and how these enable them to do their jobs with ease. It has created a demand for more apps that the IT team is unable to meet. Citizen developers who are well-versed in business operations can bridge this gap. 

It often happens that the business users are better placed to understand the app’s nuances their end-user needs. Citizen development gives the power of developing apps to those closer to the business than the developers. This way, the developed app has more probability of satisfying the needs of the end-users.

With increasing awareness among non-IT employees about technology capabilities, most employees expect software that will help them focus more on the actual job and improve efficiency. Citizen developers themselves can quickly create apps that are the need of the hour and keep employees engaged and efficient. 

These tech solutions let employees become more efficient at their job, and their productivity increases. When their productivity increases, it benefits both the employee and the organization!

The world has become a place of cut-throat competition. Every organization needs to deliver high-quality products in a short period to remain in the running. Citizen development can help develop these apps quicker, as the platforms used require low to no coding. This helps shorten the development cycle and gives your organization a competitive advantage.

How to go about Citizen Developer Governance?

While citizen developers offer many benefits to organizations, these benefits depend on skillful citizen developer governance. Unlike trained and experienced software developers, citizen developers do not have a strict protocol for operation. 

Without proper citizen developer governance, there is a risk of chaos and plenty of security issues. Every firm needs to implement a protocol for governing citizen developers that will help maximize their benefits. Here is a brief guide that will offer some guidance in this respect. 

The first thing every firm needs is a vision for citizen developers. A project or an undertaking without a concrete vision is bound to fail. 

Before embarking on the journey of using citizen developers, the organization must think about the apps or software they will be developing, where they will work, and how citizen developers will balance their regular jobs and app development.  

  • Create a Centralized Hub for Citizen Developer Governance

The organization must have a single centralized hub for citizen developer governance. A control center makes it easier to make decisions regarding citizen development.

The hub will be responsible for overseeing citizen development, developing and maintaining policies and guidelines for the developers, tracking the status of all projects undertaken by citizen developers and training, and supporting the developers when needed.

  • Identify the Tools To Be Used

Citizen developers need to work on no-code or low-code platforms to develop robust and powerful apps and software. 

All citizen developers must work on a single platform as it becomes easier to track, maintain, and train developers this way. The firm needs to identify which tool will enable citizen developers to work to their full potential.   

Once the appropriate tool has been identified, the IT team needs to train citizen developers on using the tool. One easy way to go about the training is to guide them to build an MVP of the app without coding in the initial training stages. The training phase can also help in weeding out unfit candidates for the job.

One of the main concerns that many firms have regarding citizen development is the security of the apps and software. The concern can be mitigated by choosing the right platform for development and having a centralized hub responsible for tracking and overseeing the development. There should also be sufficient quality checks for the app or software to ensure that there aren’t any security issues with the product.  

Tools for Citizen Development – Citizen Developer Platforms

One can attribute the advent and success of citizen developers in large part to low-code or no-code platforms. These platforms have given the power of developing sophisticated and useful software and apps to developers who do not have intensive training in software development.

Given this circumstance, choosing the right citizen developer platforms is key to the citizen development program’s fate. Here are some of the features to look for in citizen developer platforms. 

Cloud-based platforms let users work from anywhere they want. It makes employees more 

productive. It also offers a chance for employees working remotely to become citizen developers.

Cloud-based platforms also let multiple users work on the same project simultaneously. Almost all citizen developers work in groups, and this feature facilitates smooth collaboration within the team. 

  • Cross-Platform Functionality

Every employee within the organization need not be working on the same device. Some may use Windows devices, and some others may use Mac devices. Any app that is developed by the citizen developers must be available across all these devices. 

Creating separate apps for various devices only leads to duplication of the effort. The smart way to function is to choose a low-code platform that supports development for multiple platforms. The citizen developer only needs to create a single app, and the platform will ensure that it works across multiple devices and operating systems.       

Citizen developers lack formal training, and therefore, the citizen developer platforms need to be easy to learn and use. Anyone should be able to use the platform with minimal training. Look for citizen developer platforms with drag and drop interfaces that reduce the amount of coding to be done.

Such interfaces also support reusable code blocks that can be used for processes that occur most often in your organization. 

Everything works on data. The app developed by citizen developers will use real-time data. The platform should support integration with databases in real-time to ensure that the end product performs the desired functionality. 

Data security is a paramount concern of all organizations. The citizen developer platforms must have adequate security features that ensure that all data is protected from threats.

Salesforce Lightning, Mendix, OutSystems, and Appian are some of the best low-code citizen developer platforms that offer all the above features. It is important to compare the features of top low-code platforms before finalizing on one. 

Citizen Developer Framework – Fitting in the Organization’s Structure

While citizen developers do take a significant workload off the IT department’s shoulders, they should not work independently of the IT team. 

The IT team has insights into the organization’s needs. Every organization that uses citizen developers must ensure a team comprising full-time developers who can manage the citizen developers.

The full-time developers will review the requirements, design, and enforce a standard of development. They will also support the citizen developers when needed. The clear demarcation of roles provides a structure and establishes a hierarchy that ensures citizen development’s smooth functioning. 

Seize the Opportunity

Citizen developers present a unique opportunity for organizations to bridge the gap between the growing demand for more tech solutions and the shortage of skilled staff to develop these solutions. 

Citizen development can thrive and contribute largely to the organization’s efficiency if the right tools and governance are in place. Organizations need to seize the opportunity and leverage the power of citizen developers to improve work efficiency, increase cost-effectiveness, gain a competitive advantage over your rivals, and increase employee engagement.

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