Citizen Developer 101 (Pros + Cons + More)
Your employee has the perfect idea for a program to boost productivity and streamline processes. The program will save your company a ton of money and open up new leads you’ve wanted to access for months.
The problem is the employee with the great idea has no programming training.
When he goes to the IT department with the idea, he runs into a wall. IT is already overburdened with work and won’t be able to get to this new project for a month.
The idea goes nowhere. And instead of reducing costs, inefficient tasks continue to burn through time and money. It can feel like an endless loop.
The solution? Make your employee a citizen developer.
The citizen development movement opens doors to scaling application development. Digitizing processes and streamlining workflows is no longer a pipe dream.
Here’s what you need to know about citizen development to take advantage of it in your organization.
What Is a Citizen Developer?
Any employee who wants to create a business-led solution with low-code applications can be a citizen developer. They don’t need programming training. And don’t have to work in IT.
Citizen developers use no-code or low-code platforms to build applications rapidly without knowing the code. Instead, they drag and drop snippets of code into place.
This means they can rapidly build business-led solutions to digitize processes and streamline workflows without sending an avalanche of support tickets to your IT department.
Plus, even though they’re outside the IT department, citizen developers can still be legitimate operators of IT-approved technology.
Citizen Developer Pros
Creates Built-to-Suit Solutions
In most businesses, the IT department creates applications. Teams come up with an idea, build out the concept, and get approval. Your IT team builds the solution.
The problem with this is that the developer is often different from the person dealing with the concern the application aims to solve. As a result, the solution is less likely to be an exact match for what they need.
There’s a gap between the idea and the final product. This leads to failed adoption, wasted resources, and frustration among team members.
Citizen developers eliminate that gap.
They use a low- or no-code platform to create the exact solution to their problems. IT is there to provide oversight and guidance. But for the most part, the citizen developer can build the solution based on their day-to-day experience and ideal vision.
More Affordable Business-Led Solutions
Instead of relying only on your IT department to create applications, citizen developers can build custom solutions faster and at a fraction of the cost.
On average, they can reduce development costs by $50K - $100K.
Businesses can redistribute that money into other digital initiatives, further reducing the costs of transforming processes.
Reduces IT Backlog
IT departments have more backlog than they can handle.
Here are the facts:
- 88% of IT leaders will have larger workloads in 2022.
- 66% of major software projects are behind schedule.
- 71% of businesses have IT requests that go unanswered.
- 62% of IT departments have backlogs.
Organizations face increasing demand for digital solutions despite needing help to meet current demands. Citizen developers free up IT’s backlog by reducing the requests they need to manage.
Instead of submitting requests for simple tasks, citizen developers can build the solutions themselves. And IT can move into a support role, providing guidance, training, and support.
Faster Application (Solution) Development
Low-code app development is much, much faster than traditional software development. Citizen developers can create solutions in days or weeks, not months (or even years).
This empowers your team to create new features and integrate new applications while they’re still relevant.
Citizen developers can automate and integrate your processes and workflows. This can drastically reduce the number of time-consuming, menial tasks your team has to do.
Streamlining workflows also has a compounding effect.
Your employees will have more time to think strategically. This can inspire them to find better solutions to other problems, giving them even more time to focus on critical tasks.
Shadow IT often occurs because employees feel pressured to meet growing expectations but have to work within systems that don’t allow them to be successful. Instead, they look for tools to help make their work lives easier.
And that can put your business at unnecessary risk.
Your team member has to go around established security protocols that are in place to protect the company. Also, the third-party app may not have the security necessary to protect your company’s vital information.
The citizen development movement reduces instances of shadow IT because it empowers employees to build the custom solutions they need. Rather than rely on unsafe (or unapproved apps) that may not fully do the job, they can build exactly what they need using low code.
Your IT department can also set up guardrails and a sandbox environment to test new solutions safely. This encourages innovation while further decreasing shadow IT.
Traditionally, app creation takes place in silos. The business side of the company creates the idea. The IT creates the app.
The problem is, working in silos leads to breakdowns in communication. And the resulting apps may not meet the expectations of the business side.
This leads to lost time and money. It can also cause a lot of unnecessary frustration on both sides.
Citizen development breaks down the silos by encouraging collaboration between the business end of the company and IT. The citizen developer has a better knowledge of the technical side of app creation and can easily and comfortably communicate the application’s parameters with IT.
As an added benefit, workplace culture improves because each team better understands the goals, obstacles, and limitations of the other.
Easier to Find And Train Citizen Developers
There is a real talent shortage for software developers. Even if you have the budget, you may not be able to find people to fill open positions.
And the Great Resignation only made things a lot worse.
Developers are burned out. They’re struggling to commit. Demands and pressure are high. Finding alternatives to traditional development is key.
Most citizen developers, on the other hand, are employees with full-time jobs, not full-time developers. Instead, leadership gives them time to find and build solutions.
Rather than continuously hunt for new software developers, you can simply train your team how to use low code.
Helps Businesses Better Scale
Growing businesses need to scale their systems if they want to stay competitive. Citizen developers can help you do just that.
All the benefits citizen developers provide make it easy to scale your organizations rapidly.
Your team can integrate and automate away the tedious workflows, giving your team more time and resources to scale other processes. The end result is a more agile business that can shift with the market and stay competitive at scale.
Citizen Developer Cons
Initial Investment (Time and Money)
Your company can’t just shift processes from IT to business teams overnight.
Adopting a citizen development program will take time. And the company has to be ready to devote resources and time to the shift otherwise, it could cost you more.
Team members need time to learn low-code/no-code platforms. They also need time to review guidelines and work with IT to understand expectations. And they need to know how citizen development fits into their other daily tasks.
Leadership also has to think through how they want to use low-code in their organization. And they have to guide changes from a top-down approach.
And IT needs time to reposition itself to support citizen developers and oversee their projects.
There are costs for all that time.
Plus, you have to invest in a low-code and/or no-code platform. While these platforms are significantly cheaper than traditional development, there are still costs to manage.
Setting up citizen development governance ensures that your developers stay compliant while feeling empowered to take risks.
Without governance, you end up with a wild west scenario.
Developers build numerous apps without integrating them or keeping them secure. In some cases, you end up with numerous apps doing the same thing and/or apps that are essentially just more expensive versions of spreadsheets.
You need to establish governance at the start. Get your developers, leadership, and IT together and create guidelines for citizen developers.
You also have to plan out how to find potential citizen developers and how to train them. Training should include how to use low-code/no-code platforms productively. They also need to know how to collaborate with IT to create high-quality apps. And they should know when to hand complex builds over to IT for additional support.
More so, you need to monitor performance. Apps need to be high-quality, and they should significantly help improve operations.
Expect a drop-off in quality for some citizen developers over time. And plan for further training and maintenance sessions to keep your team sharp and successful.
Potential for Reduced Application Quality
Citizen developers are not professional developers. They are not IT-trained. As a result, they lack the experience needed to create premium apps (at least at the start.)
Still, with the right training, experience, and guidelines, you can help your citizen developers build incredibly powerful, custom applications that drive results.
Security is always a risk with technology, and low-code no-code platforms are not an exception. While these apps are cloud-based, secure systems, you still need to be careful.
Governance is key to preventing cyber security issues. You should establish parameters for developers to follow so that apps remain secure.
Your citizen developers also need to collaborate with IT. This ensures IT knows what apps your developers create, allowing them to provide guidance that keeps your critical data safe.
Initial Learning Curve
Low-code and no-code platforms are very approachable for citizen developers, but they still have a learning curve.
Don’t expect your citizen developer to understand how to use the platform and create a program on day one.
Training is a must.
Empowering your citizen developers to use the programs efficiently takes time away from their day-to-day jobs. IT will have to dedicate time to support them, too.
People also learn at different speeds. Some are faster than others. You’ll need a range of resources and support ready to help guide your team to success.
Just like any other application, low-code and no-code platforms require upkeep.
Applications developed by your citizen developers require regular assessment and maintenance to ensure proper alignment with the needs of your businesses and customers.
In addition, you’ll need to keep training your citizen developers. As these application platforms continue to advance, your team will need to stay current, so they can build the best solutions.
Who Should Be a Citizen Developer?
Citizen developers are invaluable resources to your company. With the right training on business end-user tools, they can be a vanguard for business-led solutions.
The key is choosing the right candidates for the role.
There are two ways you can employ citizen developers:
- Train full-time employees on how to use low-code platforms to improve their workflows.
- Hire a full-time citizen developer to create low-code solutions.
The path that works best for you depends on the needs of your organization.
When training an existing employee on citizen development, you want a proactive employee interested in finding better ways of working. Look for employees who often point out bottlenecks and suggest solutions.
They’ll also need an interest in technology and a willingness to learn low-code.
For full-time citizen developers, you should hire people with backgrounds in automation, integration, and application development. For example:
- Application Development
- Cloud Architect
- Workflow Automation Engineer
- Process Automation Architect
- Systems Engineer
- Strategic Development Manager
The experience in these roles can help them learn the low-code platforms quickly and deliver solutions faster.
Citizen Developer Salary
Salary estimates for citizen developers vary by state. The annual range starts at $73,998 and goes up to $107,626.
This is a great salary for people looking to enter the field.
At the same time, it’s a more affordable price point for organizations with limited IT budgets. (Software developer salaries are often much higher: between $84,020 - $140,470 or higher.)
Citizen Developer vs. Professional Developer
There are a few key differences between citizen developers and professional developers.
Citizen developers tend to have little to no programming expertise. However, they know the processes, workflows, and audiences better than professional developers. Their daily tasks make them experts on what solutions will work best.
Professional developers are technology professionals. They know how to code. And they understand the IT processes and guardrails. This allows them to build apps that are compliant and designed to achieve business goals.
Despite their differences, citizen developers and professional developers can form a positive working relationship through collaboration.
Think of them as two halves of a whole.
The citizen developer has business knowledge. They know what the application needs to do. A professional developer has the technical know-how to guide them to superior results while reducing risk to the business.
It’s the ideal team.
Citizen Developer Tools
There is a range of tools citizen developers can use to streamline processes and workflows in their organization.
Arming your team with the right tools ensures they have the highest chance of success.
Leading Citizen Developer Tools:
- Low-code/No-Code Application Platforms: Platforms that streamline application development with drag-and-drop interfaces (code and visual) to create custom builds.
- Intelligent Business Process Management Suites: Tools for guiding people and solutions to collaborate, integrate, and support business process management.
- Multi Experience Development Platforms (MDXP): Tools for centralizing life cycle application life cycles: Designing, developing, testing, distributing, running, analyzing, and optimizing fit-for-purpose applications.
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Tools that make it easy to build and deploy robots that mimic human action to complete tasks.
Future of Citizen Development
The need for applications isn’t going away. And developers simply cannot keep up with traditional software development tactics.
Low code is an easy, accessible way for businesses to keep up.
Gartner predicts that by 2023, enterprise citizen developers will outnumber professional developers 4:1.
As such, look for the citizen developer movement to continue growing. And organizations, frustrated by increasing demands, IT backlog, and customer expectations, will look more and more to citizen developers to help them achieve their goals.
The alternative is a business plagued by the risks of growing shadow IT. Employees fighting burnout while trying to handle their workloads will turn to applications that can solve their problems with or without the approval of IT.
Starting Citizen Development in Your Organization
Starting a citizen development program in your organization can lead to productive outcomes.
To succeed, you need a plan in place.
Here are a few pointers:
- Define the citizen developer's goals and roles through a vision and/or mission statement.
- Identify employees in your company who have the potential to be citizen developers.
- Train citizen developers to understand their roles and responsibilities.
- Select a low-code platform that is accessible and supports your company’s goals.
- Create opportunities for collaboration between citizen developers and IT.
- Create a monitoring system to assess performance and provide training.
Citizen Developer FAQs
How Does a Citizen Developer Contribute to a Project?
Citizen developers use their business expertise (daily experience with processes and workflows) to create applications using low-code or no-code platforms. They are often full-time employees who create applications for their departments on the side.
When Can You Implement a Citizen Development Program?
If you can identify potential citizen developers in your company, you’re ready to implement a citizen developer program. You’ll need a budget for the tools and training, though.
How Do You Implement a Citizen Developer Program?
You need to have a citizen developer framework in place before building out a citizen developer program. This ensures your team members have the guidance and guardrails they need to succeed.
At the same time, it prevents your low-code initiatives from turning into another form of shadow IT.
With a citizen developer framework, your team can explore creative solutions to problems without putting your business at risk or increasing strain on IT.
What Type of Businesses Benefit Most from Citizen Development?
Citizen development can support various businesses, helping them meet their needs.
Whether you’re a small company looking for ways to improve workflows or run a larger company with an overworked IT department, you can implement a Citizen Development program.
How Do You Govern Citizen Development?
Governing your citizen development program requires a top-down approach. Once you have a citizen development framework program in place, you must create a culture of transparency and support for the movement.
Additionally, IT professionals must have visibility and control over all parts to maintain quality and security. Your citizen development framework will ensure your team collectively moves toward getting the most out of your low-code applications.
How Can Companies Leverage Citizen Developers More?
Choosing the right technology goes a long way to ensuring your citizen developers can create the best solutions. Frameworks, governance, and a top-down adoption create a strong foundation for successful citizen developers' initiatives.
However, if you want to speed up the process more, consider working with citizen development consultants. Consultants will know how to stand up these programs faster and provide you with the support, guidance, and frameworks you need to succeed.
Get Support with Your Citizen Developer Program
Quandary Consulting Group delivers all the tools and services you need to support your Citizen Developer Program.
We believe 100% in the citizen development movement. And we’ve trained countless team members at numerous clients to help them get more out of low-code platforms like Quickbase, Workato, and Pipefy.
We aim to work as your long-term partner, providing guidance and support to ensure your citizen development team aligns with your business goals and vision.
Want to get the most out of your citizen development program?
Reach out to us today!