Currently, 87% of companies are pursuing digital transformation to boost efficiency, competitiveness, and agility while reducing costs.

Still, digital transformation has its downsides.

It can be disruptive, time-consuming, and push organizations to their limits. There’s also risk involved (change and data management, for example.) And it often requires an initial investment from businesses with limited budgets.

Additionally, IT teams typically bear the brunt of digitization and fall behind the overwhelming demand for new business apps. Currently, 64% of IT departments report a backlog of new app requests.

Citizen development offers a simple solution for businesses looking to digitize processes without burning through limited resources or burning out their developers. Here’s how citizen development supports digital transformation.

What Is Citizen Development?

Citizen development shifts software development away from IT. Instead, it empowers non-IT-trained employees to quickly build custom business applications using cloud-based low-code and no-code development platforms.

Citizen developers complement IT development by applying their unique expertise to the solutions they create. The result is a reduction in workload for IT with unique solutions that teams can easily adopt.

With 70% of IT solution requests going unmet, citizen development is a welcomed approach that reduces the workload for already overwhelmed programmers and tech resources.

What Is Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation is the use of automation, integration, and other applications to streamline workflows and processes in a business.

Sadly, it has become a jargony buzzword that pools every digital initiative together, making it harder for businesses to understand the concept fully.

In short, it’s using technology to change how work gets done in your business. Whether you automate invoices, connect data streams between systems, or build a custom app for the unique needs of your business, it all falls under the umbrella of “Digital Transformation.”

The goal is simple: reduce inefficiencies from menial tasks by automating and integrating systems. This results in more strategic time for your team, cost reduction on labor and mistakes, and fewer operational risks for your business.

Why Is Citizen Development on the Rise?

The downside of digital transformation is an increased demand for IT departments, programmers, and software to streamline existing processes.

Unfortunately, professional developers and IT staff can’t keep up with ever-increasing demands for new business apps.

There is a major shortage of software developers.

In 2021, there were 1,622,200 software developer vacancies. And projections show a 25% increase by 2031.

Even more challenging for businesses is finding the resources to hire developers. Salaries for programmers are high. And the demand continues to drive up the costs.

Businesses with limited resources need an alternative solution. And that’s where Citizen development comes in handy.

Digital transformation forces businesses to find ways to scale application development.

Citizen development enables leaders to delegate those tasks to the employees responsible for the workflows impacted by digital transformation.

Citizen developers can take the lead on app development and apply more resources to enable more apps more quickly. Overworked IT teams benefit by offloading a significant piece of app development, reducing their backlog, and gaining the increased capacity to dedicate to other initiatives.

Projections from Gartner show that by 2023, citizen developers will outnumber professional developers 4 to 1.

7 Ways Citizen Development Accelerates Digital Transformation

A lack of IT bandwidth can slow or even stall digital transformation. But citizen developers can take over much of app development and expedite digital transformation.

If you’re on the fence about leveraging citizen developers, here are 7 significant ways the movement can accelerate digital transformation in your business.

1. Speeds Up App Development

Citizen development is up to 10x faster than coding the same app from scratch. Total development time can take as little as 2 - 4 weeks. (In some cases, it can take a few hours or days, depending on the complexity of the solution.)

Apps built by IT take significantly longer.

IT application development time varies according to complexity, starting at about 3 months for a small app and as many as 10 - 18 months for complex projects.

IT departments are also responsible for design, testing, and deployment. In addition to coding, these other activities add additional weeks to the project.

Because traditional development depends on IT schedules and demands, start time delays can happen. Even worse, IT backlogs and competing project priorities can push app completion dates further.

2. Addresses Specific Business Problems

Citizen developers are intimately aware of the day-to-day problems that an app can resolve. This hands-on knowledge is the “secret sauce” that makes an app effective and purpose-built.

And as subject matter experts, citizen developers are the most qualified to build apps directly impacting their workflows. They understand the processes, dependencies, and environment where the app will “live.”

This business mindset allows them to focus on how the app should integrate with other tools and what data it will process. It also shows them how employees, partners, and customers would interact with it.

The end result is a superior solution with higher adoption rates and customer satisfaction.

3. Reduces Costs

Working outside expensive IT cost structures, citizen developers typically build apps at a much lower cost than professional developers.

The main tools that citizen developers use, low-code and no-code platforms, are SaaS services that are relatively affordable for businesses. Costs scale with use, eliminating the need to purchase other expensive software.

Shorter development timelines for apps created by citizen developers are a significant way to reduce costs.

Citizen developers are full-time employees in other areas that learn how to use low-code platforms to enhance their work. The salaries of these junior-level employees are often lower than software developer salaries.

Professional development teams often have numerous processes in place for building applications. These processes include several programmers and a project manager or other IT staff, further inflating the cost of an app.

4. Improves Efficiency

Citizen developers are considerably more efficient than professional developers working within IT departments. In short, they get more done with less.

They leverage low- or no-code tools that automate time-consuming programming while minimizing development timeframes.

Ultimately, Citizen developers can work unhindered by the IT bureaucracy that can bring projects to a crawl. In other words, they face fewer procedural or budgetary obstacles that can drag out the time to market for applications.

The development process becomes more efficient when the person connected to the problem designs the solution. Instead of endless back and forth, citizen developers are likelier to get it right the first time.

5. Reduces IT Backlog

Citizen developers make life easier for IT by carrying the load of app development. This assistance is usually a welcome relief as 96% of IT departments are overworked.

IT teams are constantly overburdened, with 64% of companies reporting an application development backlog. Plus, they struggle to keep up with 77% of IT solution requests going unresolved.

Intense workloads take a toll on IT workers, as 82% reported burnout at some point during the last 6 - 8 months. And turnover is high, with 70% of workers looking to switch jobs within the following year.

6. Improves Workplace Culture

Digital transformation can adversely impact workplace culture, especially in the short term. Sweeping organizational change can damage morale and cause employees to react negatively.

Some team members can be antagonistic toward change, fearing improvements will worsen their day-to-day lives. As a result, they can slow down or derail digital initiatives.

But citizen development can help mitigate the negative fallout. Employees who create apps to improve their everyday jobs become full participants in digital transformation.

Rather than being held hostage by top-down, IT-driven initiatives, citizen developers can drive their changes.

This sense of empowerment can spread and repair or improve workplace culture and help employees regain a sense of security.

7. Keeps Businesses Competitive

Citizen development helps create leaner businesses that can scale services and products to reach customers better. These solutions enhance agility and enable companies to resolve issues quickly and exploit new opportunities.

Employees get more time to focus on strategic tasks, empowering them to impact company performance directly.

Businesses also gain deeper insights into customer needs with cleaner data. And they can use that knowledge to add new features, launch new products, and improve operations.

Customers experience better service, deeper engagement, and a higher level of satisfaction. A better experience leads to greater customer loyalty and an enhanced brand.

Additionally, leaner businesses have more resources to take risks and build new solutions to reach customers better in the future.

With these added advantages, companies can better compete in the marketplace and remain agile when markets shift.

Citizen Development Risks

Despite its considerable benefits, citizen development is not risk-free. To be successful, you need the right approach to governance. You also need to be aware of the risks.

1. Security Concerns

Some consider Low- and no-code platforms vulnerable to security breaches.

However, in-depth analysis has shown they are no less secure than conventional development tools. (And far more secure than spreadsheets.)

Most security risks are manageable. Still, breaches and other serious incidents can happen. This is why it’s essential to remain vigilant.

Be aware of systemic failures, including unauthorized integrations, unchecked shadow IT, and lapses in oversight.

Ensure security with citizen development by establishing clear frameworks for governance and allowing your citizen developers to collaborate with IT.

2. Requires Planning and Training

Citizen development works best as a well-planned, company-sanctioned initiative. Done right, citizen development depends on multiple stakeholders and includes many moving parts.

“Winging it” isn’t an effective strategy.

Instead, a successful program requires careful planning inclusive of all key stakeholders, including leadership, IT, and citizen developers. Without careful planning and stakeholder input, your citizen development movement can fail.

Training is also essential.

Train your team to use the approved development platform, ensuring app security, and working with IT. IT staff also need training on developer program rules of the road, effective monitoring procedures, and app quality control.

3. Needs Oversight

A lack of oversight can spell disaster for citizen development. Instead of boosting productivity, it could easily collapse into chaos.

Citizen development isn't plug-and-play.

It doesn’t spontaneously emerge ready to take over the majority of app development from IT. And it won't evolve and grow without boundaries, guidance, and resources.

Instead, it needs IT support and leadership buy-in to succeed.

Typically, citizen developers aren’t tech-savvy. Their business expertise may enable them to design a terrific app, only to inadvertently stumble into a security breach due to a lack of technical skills.

Without adequate oversight, the risks of citizen development can overwhelm the benefits.

Rather than rapid and innovative app development, you can be stuck with cost overruns, lower productivity, compromised security, and increased shadow IT.

IT Department’s Role in Citizen Development

Citizen development and IT have complementary strengths. They must work together to meet application demand and support digital transformation.

For its part, citizen development can take the lead role in minor app development, allowing IT to reduce its backlog and focus on major, strategic solutions.

There’s fear that citizen development would replace IT. This is not true. Citizen developers need support, training, and guidance from IT.

There are also fears that citizen development will overly complicate the day-to-day for programmers. As long as there are frameworks in place, citizen developers should drastically reduce the strain on IT.

The key is setting up both teams for success.

IT should select the best low code platform for their business and provide safe, sandbox environments and the transparency teams need to succeed. As long as IT builds out the guardrails, citizen development can flourish.