IT Leader Round-Up: Citizen Developer Challenges 
Only 3 out of 10 digital transformations succeed. Resources, time, and developer shortages make it harder to drive measurable change.
Fortunately for many businesses, low-code platforms make it easier for businesses to scale applications. development. Even better, the citizen developer movement can help speed up digital transformations by offloading the IT backlog to capable business users.
But the citizen development movement is not without challenges.
We spoke with several leading CIOs on navigating the difficulties in launching and managing citizen development.
Here’s what they had to say.
15 Challenges Citizen Developers Face (With Solutions from IT Leaders)
Whether you’re considering launching a citizen development program or you need help with governing existing citizen developers, you need to navigate these challenges successfully.
1. It’s a “New” Concept
Citizen development is an emerging topic, but the concept has been around for a while.
In fact, it was gaining traction in 2018. However, the pandemic slowed progress as attention focused on building tools to enable remote work.
Recently, it’s entered the news again as inflation, market uncertainty, developer talent shortage, and increasing demand have made digital transformations increasingly urgent.
Still, we’ve found that the term “Citizen Developer” is not colloquial in many organizations. IT leaders leverage low code. They even have tech-savvy team members building solutions.
They just don’t identify them as “citizen developers.”
As more businesses move development outside of IT and empower business users with low-code tools, the terminology will become common.
2. Insufficient Technical Expertise
Citizen Developers are not developers.
Instead, they’re tech-savvy business users who know how to use low-code tools to build custom solutions that scale their output.
This means they’re often unfamiliar with IT security principles, frameworks, or procedures. Without oversight, you can end up with app sprawl, shadow IT, and security breaches.
George Fylaktopoulos, CTO of Comidor, says that “working with citizen developers requires a collaborative approach. As CTO, I ensure that we provide adequate training and support to citizen developers, so they can effectively use our platform. We also provide templates and pre-built components, which they can customize to their specific needs.”
Understanding that most citizen developers don’t have an IT background and providing them with the support they need to thrive is essential.
Otherwise, your team will struggle to make any positive business impact.
3. Limited Access to Resources
Without the right resources, tools, knowledge, and support, your citizen developers can’t solve business problems effectively.
Instead, apps are likely to be riddled with bugs and performance issues. The risk of security concerns and compliance violations increases.
Ultimately, the end-users (employees and customers) suffer.
Upskilling is critical for developers. Not surprisingly, it is just as vital for citizen developers to succeed as well.
4. Time Constraints
Adopting and scaling citizen development is a time-consuming process. Overworked organizations may find it exceptionally difficult to create time in their schedules to stand up these programs.
There are two paths you can take:
The first is to make the time. Low-code tools can drastically increase productivity and efficiency. Knowing this, organizations can deprioritize other tasks with the understanding that their investment in citizen development will yield justifiable returns with increased efficiency.
The other option is to outsource citizen development implementation to experts. Outsourcing this effort allows you to focus on your main business goals with minimal disruption.
5. Resistance from IT Teams
As citizen development scales over the entire business, it becomes increasingly difficult for IT professionals to oversee Citizen Developer activity.
Unsupervised citizen developers can cause security threats and non-compliance with regulations. Underperforming applications can create more work for IT teams who pause existing work-in-progress regularly to evaluate apps built by citizen developers.
Kody Johnston, Director of Data Analytics and Innovation at Maxwell Healthcare Associates offers this solution, “being able to showcase the value and also get into audiences with CIO/CTO decision-makers has been the must, but also the hardest to crack.”
The goal is to illustrate the initial success of the program. “Once successfully shown,” Johnston continues, “there are few, if any, that have closed the door to citizen development and NCLC.”
That said, Johnston points out, “Healthcare is a different beast. Our regulations make IT skeptical due to HIPPA and many regulations from a technology standpoint.”
Start small. Share wins. Build buy-in over time.
6. Communication Challenges
Citizen developers need to collaborate with IT teams.
Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that teams are siloed. Without centralized communication, citizen developers create apps that are:
- Redundant (both in features and capabilities)
- Not aligned with business goals
- Weak (from both a performance and UX perspective)
- Full of security and compliance issues
- Unable to significantly reduce IT backlogs
Roy Edwards, President and Chief Operations Officer at Capitol Presence, offset this problem in his organization by “creating templates of approved UX/UI, holding Champions group meetings to go over best practices and information.”
And Johnston suggests that organizations “build relationships with IT and prototyped solutions that apply to both the business unit and IT. Creating a monthly idea forum where personnel can go that are interdisciplinary to discuss these ideas safely and effectively has been the best jump start to getting buy-in on LCNC and citizen development.”
Fylaktopoulos adds, “We implemented a review process that involved collaboration between citizen developers, business analysts, and our development team.” This ensures "that all members feel valued, [that] their work is not undermined, and [that] everyone understands the positive results of the CD adoption.”
7. Lack of Testing Tools, Processes, and Experience
In-depth LCNC training, IT support, QA, and testing tools are a must for the success of citizen developers. Without them, citizen developers will struggle to “get out of first gear” and build powerful solutions.
Samantha Mulford from PMI’s Citizen Development Program suggests “designing and developing online training initiatives at all levels plus holding Webinars on LCNC platforms and LCNC-AI integrations” to empower citizen developers.
It’s also important to centralize citizen developer governance. This helps establish clear processes, roles, and responsibilities for application testing.
At the same time, Johnston explains that “being able to document and prove that process out to organizations is essential for you to drive a successful citizen development program no matter where you are.”
Having the right processes in place and building on those drastically improve the quality and overall impact of the apps your citizen developers build.
8. Maintenance and Support
Applications are organic. They cannot run indefinitely without changes, bug fixes, and feature enhancements. They need updates.
Citizen developer apps are no different.
In addition to teaching citizen developers how to build apps properly, you must show them how to update and maintain them. Edwards explains that citizen developers need to follow the iterative development phases of “Plan, Design, Make, Test, Retrospect, Refine.”
According to Edwards, “the greatest difficulties are establishing templates, guidelines, governance, and general work instructions to empower your team.”
To overcome this challenge, he suggests “creating a consistent style of Low-Code-No-Code development to ease the administrative and Operation and Maintenance burden.”
Developers need to follow frameworks to ensure apps exceed expectations. Citizen developers need to follow the same standards.
9. Compliance Issues
Data privacy and application vulnerability are constant concerns for any developer. This is no different with citizen developers.
Without governance, citizen developers are more likely to violate compliance regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA. Data breaches are expensive. They can potentially ruin brand trust and reputation.
Mulford advises that IT teams “Assess if projects are suitable for CD and fit within your organizational framework” and “ensure compliance and governance with risk oversight from the IT team.”
This is the bare minimum for businesses adopting citizen developers. Without it, you risk creating applications that do more harm than good.
CIOs struggle to scale citizen development across their organizations. This is a natural consequence of moving development out of IT.
Usually, this is a result of moving too quickly.
Instead, you should start small. Edwards highlights the best approach: “Identify which areas of the business you want your CDs to take on.”
He further explains that “not all processes need to be automated, and oftentimes people take on automation and development projects too early and without communication to a greater team.
Focus on a single area and improve. Reflect on the process. And build out your citizen development program from there.
11. Unnecessary or Redundant Apps
Without the 10,000 ft view, citizen developers can create redundant or unnecessary apps. This is more frequent if there are communication bottlenecks in an organization.
For example, a citizen developer in HR could build an app with the same functionality as a citizen developer in procurement because they simply don’t know one exists.
Or, the business could already have a tool in place that carries out the functions designed in that application.
Either way, duplicate apps create information silos while wasting resources Johnston argues that you need to “KNOW YOUR INFRASTRUCTURE. Who makes the calls, what tools do you have, what cloud stack are you in bed with, what are current initiatives that your enterprise is focusing on.”
With proper IT governance, your citizen developers won’t waste time on redundancies.
12. Security Concerns
Roughly 15 million data records suffered data breaches globally between July and September 2022 alone.
The average cost of a data breach was at an all-time high of $4.35M in 2022. Acronis report predicts that cost will rise to $5M in 2023.
With so much on the line, professional developers must provide security guidelines for Citizen Developers.
Vivek Goel from Quixy adds, "While choosing CD Platforms, organizations must ensure that the platform is compliant with the latest data security and privacy standards like ISO 27001, SOC 2 Type 2, GDPR, etc."
Sandbox environments also give citizen developers a safe place to innovate. And IT governance ensures apps remain compliant.
13. Weak Quality Assurance
Without oversight, citizen developers create applications that provide experiences that can be worse than existing or manual processes.
Remember, citizen developers aren’t professional developers. They have limited technical know-how. IT teams know how to run QA and know the difference between good-better-best.
Training, templates, examples, and collaboration between IT teams and citizen developers is the only way to improve quality assurance.
Citizen developers must understand quality and how to build it into their low-code solutions.
14. Integration Challenges
If you build applications that function in siloes, you cannot fully benefit from automation. Instead, you’ll only partially improve a workflow.
App integrations can be difficult (even for seasoned programmers).
Fylaktopoulos argues that “organizations should work closely with their IT teams to ensure that citizen development is aligned with existing processes and can be effectively integrated into the organization's broader IT strategy.”
Building integrations is a key component of successfully transforming manual processes. And working with IT to ensure solutions integrate helps the organization get the most out of their process improvements.
Recently, citizen integrators (a subcategory of citizen developers) have arrived to address this problem.
Unlike citizen developers, citizen integrators focus solely on building integrations. As such, they’re more familiar with how integrations work and can connect various applications.
15. Limited Access to Data
Citizen developers need access to data if they’re going to create effective solutions. The challenge is that they tend to be restricted by their role in their organization.
Instead, leadership or IT teams act as gatekeepers to critical data insights. This makes it harder for citizen developers to create meaningful solutions.
The best solution is to create a center of excellence (CoE) with a central archive of the required data.
The CoE must store the business goals and objectives, training data, security and UI/UX guidelines, company policies, external compliance requirements, etc. And it should be accessible to citizen developers.
Why You Need a CoE for Citizen Developers
Successfully deploying and governing citizen developers requires an established framework and system of governance. By setting up a Center of Excellence (CoE), you can ensure that your developers amplify your IT team’s capabilities, not hinder it.
A CoE is a centrally governed repository of resources, best practices, tools, and reusable components. It serves as a meeting point for managers, citizen developers, and IT experts.
A CoE helps:
- Increase citizen developer performance
- Align IT with citizen developers to ensure compliance
- Reduces IT backlog
- Provides resources and guidance for citizen developers
- Improves communication and collaboration between IT and citizen developers
- Ensures new apps align with business goals
- Scales citizen development output without negatively impacting quality
- Boosts ROI while reducing costs from citizen development initiatives
How to Create a CoE for Citizen Developers
Follow these steps to build an effective CoE in your organization:
- Define your organizational vision and goals.
- Determine how your citizen developers can support these goals
- Create a core operational team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
- Build a governance framework your citizen developers must follow.
- Choose the best low-code tools for your team.
- Collect and distribute the necessary resources for developers.
- Provide your IT teams time to collaborate with citizen developers.
- Establish a transparent environment that embraces failure and innovation.
- Regularly review, collect feedback/data, and refine the CoE.
By setting up your citizen developers for success, you can reduce IT backlog and scale digital solutions faster. The result: cost reduction, improved productivity, better employee and customer satisfaction, improved IT performance, and more. Not sure where to start?
At Quandary Consulting Group, we help clients create, deploy, and manage citizen developer programs. As leaders in the space, we lean on experience with low code tools to design a CoE for citizen developers within your organization.
Whether you need help managing citizen developers or expanding your existing program, we can help.
Or, see how we’ve helped our clients in the case studies below.