Citizen Developer: All Hype Or the Future of Coding?
Gartner has forecasted the era of the citizen developer a few times. The latest prediction states that by 2023 citizen developers will outnumber programmers 4 to 1.
That won't be the case.
In fact, most businesses still aren’t sure what a citizen developer is despite having low-code platforms in their tech stack. Things don’t look good.
But does that mean the citizen development movement is dead?
Far from hype, the citizen development movement is just getting started. The key to success rests in governance and managing expectations.
The truth is that businesses need citizen development now, more than ever. While overhyped in the past, citizen development is on a fast track to becoming the norm.
Citizen Development and Low Code Trends
To determine whether or not the citizen development moment is all hype or the future of coding, you need to look at app development and programmer trends.
Here are the facts:
- 76% of customers expect e-commerce services from B2B experiences.
- The demand for software developers will continue to increase.
- 88% of IT leaders saw increased workloads in 2022.
- Two-thirds of major software projects are behind schedule.
- IT solutions regularly go unmet.
- Most IT professionals have a backlog in app development.
- Low-code platforms can build solutions up to 10x faster than traditional development.
Developers are swamped with requests. Increased customer demands and labor costs, along with a talent shortage and extensive IT backlogs, put businesses in a bind. They need digital solutions and they need them quickly to stay competitive and give customers more.
Traditional application development can’t keep up. (And hasn’t been able to for some time.)
And with inflation and trimming budgets, businesses need a way to do more with less. Low-code application platforms combined with citizen developers do just that.
As a result, they’ll change the very nature of software development.
Citizen developers work as an extension of IT. They use low-code and no-code platforms to build solutions that fit their specific business needs. And because they’re close to the work that needs to get done, the resulting solutions have a high acceptance rate.
That’s better than having IT create applications that may or may not do the job well, and then forcing teams to use these tools.
Why Businesses Need Citizen Developers
Citizen developers can support digital transformations in numerous ways. There are seven key areas where these assets can break through the hype and make a real, measurable impact on your business.
1. Increased Demand for Digital Solutions
You can only transform so much in your organization without investing in better systems.
Automation and integration break down data silos and streamline processes. The time and resources saved can empower your team to find better solutions.
Businesses that don’t invest in better solutions end up treading water, unable to innovate until competitors overtake them.
Customers also want more features, stronger support, and a better user experience. You need digital solutions to meet these needs as well.
2. Limited Budgets
Traditional application development is expensive. Low-code no-code (LCNC) application platforms are much more affordable. And as SaaS platforms, cost scales with use.
When businesses are laying off tech positions and trimming down expenses, low-code applications development and citizen developers can help you get more results at a lower cost.
3. Long Development Times
Building applications the traditional way takes a long time, roughly 7 - 12 months (or longer).
This is problematic. Businesses need solutions quickly to reduce costs and stay competitive. Longer development times lead to more expense and missed opportunities. Additionally, it’s possible that the problem changes before the new solution is ready.
When that happens, you waste a lot of time and money developing features your team and customers no longer need.
Citizen developers can build applications much faster, in days or weeks instead of months and years.
4. The Risk of Change Management
Change management is more challenging with solutions that are created outside of the departments that use them. This can lead to waste and a host of other problems.
IT teams are far removed from the daily problems of your team. They may not be familiar with the tools they use either. This can lead to waste when developers create solutions nobody wants to use.
Citizen developers are essentially building tools to solve their problems. Adoption is much higher because they know the features needed to do the job.
5. Inspires Innovation
There’s nothing more frustrating than suggesting ways to improve workflows only to watch them get ignored. It stifles creativity while making you feel trapped.
Citizen development rewards creativity by empowering employees. You can drastically improve your workflows and processes by actively building the solutions you need.
Sandbox environments can protect citizen developers from disrupting business accidentally. And incentives can further encourage improvements.
Best of all, your team will feel inspired to make real, lasting changes that improve their lives and the work they do.
6. Improves Business Operations
The main goal of citizen developers is to build solutions that will streamline business operations. This benefits everyone. Citizen developers integrate systems, automate tasks, and reduce waste. The end result is better workflows and clearer data streams.
At the same time, they free up IT teams from menial development tasks. This empowers them to focus on complex business problems, building the solutions needed to improve the business.
7. Increases Collaboration
Most departments see IT as an obstacle.
They want a tool to make their jobs easier, but IT “never listens”. Ideas for improvement often get ignored (because IT teams are busy with other tasks).
In most cases, employees will simply sidestep IT, finding a solution that works. This leads to shadow IT, waste, and increased risk.
Citizen developers build a bridge between departments and your IT team. IT teams work with citizen developers, training them on IT policies and frameworks, and ensuring solutions are effective and secure.
The relationship becomes more collaborative as opposed to adversarial.
Why Citizen Developers Fail
If there are so many benefits to citizen developers and a clear, pressing need for adoption, then why hasn’t the citizen development movement caught on, yet?
After all, Gartner has been broadcasting its arrival for years.
The pandemic caused a lot of chaos. For starters, it accelerated the need for digital solutions. But at the same time, made businesses hesitant to adopt new technologies and approaches.
There has also been a lot of pushback against LCNC platforms and citizen developers from traditional programmers. Those with a negative view of the movement see citizen developers as antagonists trying to eradicate their jobs. They also feel that LCNC platforms create subpar applications. That LCNC is somehow weaker than traditional development.
Both of these ideas are wrong.
Still, it has led to a sheepish, somewhat hesitant approach to embracing citizen developers. After all, who wants to work with someone they believe is trying to replace their job or use tools that create applications they don’t believe will work?
Moreover, businesses don’t fully understand what’s needed to launch a citizen developer program.
They often choose employees who aren’t the best candidates, give them access to a low-code platform, and tell them to create solutions. All without any kind of governance or support.
This leads to scope creep, wasted resources, operational slowdowns, and increased risk.
Citizen Developers Need IT Support to Succeed
If you want your citizen developers to succeed, you need a culture change.
It starts with leadership understanding what the citizen development movement is and how it can provide value to the organization.
Next, you need to get your IT leaders on board.
There will be operation changes they must prepare for. They will need to provide support, resources, and guidance. This will take time, which will be difficult as most IT teams are underwater.
But, it’s necessary to ensure your citizen developers succeed.
Finally, you need to educate and train your citizen developers. At the same time, you need to tailor expectations.
They’re not professional developers. There will be limits to what they can do, regardless of the tools they use.
Instead, your IT leaders will need to work with citizen developers to teach them the processes and framework needed to build agile, secure solutions. Oversight is key, as IT must ensure that citizen developers work toward established business goals.
This can be hard for citizen developers to do as they mostly focus on their job and workflow. It’s difficult to connect the dots to other systems, constraints, and goals.
That’s why IT oversight is key.
In short, you can’t throw citizen developers in the deep end and expect them to swim.
They won't. They’ll drown.
The Value of Citizen Developer Consultants
If your IT team is overwhelmed and launching a citizen developer program isn’t something they can do with their current workload, then there is another solution.
Working with citizen developer consultants, you can outsource the implementation, training, and governance of your citizen developers.
You get a citizen development program that works. And your IT team gets more time to focus on critical tasks without disruption.
At Quandary Consulting Group, we help businesses launch citizen development programs. Using our experience as low-code experts and business consultants, we train your teams on the tools we use to help other businesses scale their systems.
Want to learn more? Reach out to us today!