The citizen development movement is in full force with 84% of companies acknowledging that it can provide a competitive edge. Business leaders and employees are thrilled at the idea of building out custom solutions that make their day-to-day jobs easier.

But many IT departments don’t see it in the same light. Instead, many IT leaders worry citizen development is nothing more than unchecked shadow IT.

And they have a right to be cautious.

After all, your IT department is responsible for ensuring tech stays compliant and secure. They understand how damaging data breaches and compliance violations are.

They also understand that shadow IT can burn through resources while creating more inefficiencies than they solve.

But is citizen development shadow IT?

Let's lay out the facts.

What Is Citizen Development?

The need to automate processes and integrate applications continues to drive the need for new digital solutions. Unfortunately, traditional (IT-centric) development can’t keep up.

This has necessitated an alternative approach: Citizen development.

Citizen development has emerged to fill the gap between business app demand and limited IT resources.

In short, non-IT employees use low-code applications to build custom solutions to everyday business problems. And they do so without any coding knowledge.

Using a drag-and-drop interface, they arrange predefined modules into UIs, processes, and functions. These platforms handle the rest, generating the code needed to create fully functional applications.

Citizen developers can build applications faster and at a lower cost than conventional app development. Most importantly, citizen developers leverage their unique experience with the business problems they face. As a result, they create custom solutions that work.

The “secret sauce” of citizen developer expertise results in apps that better fit business requirements. Adoption and success rates are higher.

What Is Shadow IT?

Fundamentally, shadow IT springs from an imbalance between business needs and technology resources.

Businesses need more technology solutions. IT needs time to build new apps and review approval requests. Increasing demand and limited resources stretch IT departments thin.

Wait time for builds and approvals increases. And employees, with ever-growing pressure to deliver results, side-step IT and deploy solutions independently.

Shadow IT is an insidious problem for IT departments that increases business risks.

Only 8% of all businesses know the extent of shadow IT within their organization. And over 80% of employees use unsanctioned shadow IT applications. Worse yet, it’s becoming more widespread, with shadow IT increasing 112% yearly.

Shadow IT isn’t just about side-stepping IT protocol and downloading an unsanctioned app from the web. Security concerns may be the most serious risk posed by Shadow IT. Gartner estimates that one-third of cyber attacks result from shadow IT.

It can be easy to blame shadow IT on bureaucratic IT departments.

In fairness, complex IT policies and procedures are a contributing factor. IT is often slow to respond to new app requests, with 64% of IT departments reporting a backlog.

However, blaming IT will not reduce shadow IT or resolve its root causes. But citizen development can leverage the strengths of shadow IT while minimizing risk.

As long as your business takes the right approach.

The Benefits of Shadow IT

Shadow IT isn’t all bad. In fact, many businesses are embracing it. They see it as a strategy they can use to grow their businesses.

Benefits of Shadow IT:

  • Increased employee productivity: Employees are more efficient when using tools they prefer and understand.
  • More familiarity with cloud computing: Team members get more experience with agile, cloud-based work solutions, improving their productivity.
  • Higher engagement and empowerment: Shadow IT encourages team members to rethink how they work and create more streamlined processes.
  • Frees up IT resources: Citizen developers can knock out small tasks, so developers have more time to focus on strategic issues.

Why More Businesses Embrace Shadow IT

Shadow IT gives businesses the solutions they need to stay competitive and exceed customer expectations. And they do so at a time when software developers are in short supply.

Organizations can’t afford to wait around for new talent to meet increasing workloads. Everyone craves more streamlined processes. With automation becoming the norm, people (customers and employees alike) expect results faster.

People are also tired of menial, repetitive tasks. For example, manually pulling data from spreadsheets is a soul-crushing, time-consuming task. Employees don’t want to do it. Employers don’t want to pay people to do it. Automation is a simple solution.

With or without IT approval.

Additionally, most employees are tech-savvy. They use computers, smartphones, and apps daily. As a result, they are less likely to wait around for IT to approve something they can “figure out” on their own.

Citizen Development vs. IT

Citizen development can have strained relationships with IT, CIOs, and software engineers. They fear losing control over development. And they are wary of potential security issues, redundancies, and poor app quality.

To be fair, these concerns are valid. Citizen development can be at odds with IT if it is not properly governed.

While citizen developers do not work for IT, they still need to collaborate with developers. They’re not programmers. Their knowledge of IT systems is limited. They need guidance, support, and collaboration to be successful.

With the right structure and collaboration, citizen developers and IT complement each other. The sooner they realize they’re on the same team and share common goals, the sooner they can support one another and drive more results.

Citizen Development’s Impact on Shadow IT

With proper governance, citizen development can reduce the need for shadow IT.

Shadow IT happens because business environments push employees to leverage unapproved technology to get work done better and faster.

Citizen development gives developers the tools they need to create the exact solution they need. This removes the incentive for employees to download unapproved applications.

With the proper framework, IT and citizen developers can work closely together to accomplish business goals faster. As a result, everyone wins.

Without proper governance, citizen development can make shadow IT much worse.

Employees can create multiple versions of the same application that cause unnecessary waste. And if citizen developers don’t integrate these applications, you essentially end up with expensive spreadsheets that still need manual data processing.

If citizen developers use unapproved low-code applications with weak security or compliance concerns, they can expose the business to unnecessary risk.

Ultimately, governance determines exactly how citizen development impacts shadow IT.

How to Reduce Shadow IT With Citizen Developers (10 Steps)

Make no mistake, the no-code movement will change software development. If you want to reduce shadow IT from your citizen developers, you need the right approach.

In short, you need a citizen development program with a structured framework to reduce or eliminate shadow IT. Follow these 10 steps to make it happen.

1. Create a Citizen Developer Center of Excellence (COE)

Located at the center of a structured framework, a Center of Excellence (COE) acts as a go-to citizen development hub. It consolidates developer resources, support, and leadership control all in one place.

A COE sets standards, selects platforms and supporting technologies, and provides testing and QA. It keeps stakeholders and policies aligned while serving as a focal point for citizen developers, IT, and leadership.

The COE maintains a repository of key developer resources. These include best practices, application templates, pre-built code modules, and developer documentation.

Additionally, the COE hosts secure development sandboxes. This allows citizen developers to innovate in a safe environment.

2. Establish a Collaborative Environment

Citizen developers are most productive when working in a collaborative environment. This allows IT departments to track projects, catch overlaps, and bridge gaps easily.

Citizen developers and IT working together improves developer productivity and application quality. At the same time, collaboration reduces wasted effort and cost.

3. Choose the Right Low-Code/No-Code Platform

A wide variety of low-code/no-code platforms are available. Some won’t be a good fit for your business, so you should choose carefully.

When choosing a platform, start by assessing base functionality. Other factors like strong workflow automation and integration connectors are also important.

Once you’ve settled on a platform, it’s best to standardize. Choosing a single platform helps with community building, developer training, and additional support.

4. Train Your Citizen Developers

Citizen developer training is a key success factor. Training should include detailed instructions on using the approved low-code/no-code platform for your business.

But your citizen developers also need instruction on security, integration, and data integrity. Remember, they aren’t traditional programmers. So, there will be some limitations. You’ll need to work within those limitations and train your citizen development team.

Well-trained developers are better equipped to create great apps and avoid issues before they occur. That experience is key for citizen developers to produce applications that align with IT standards and business needs.

5. Provide Important Tools and Resources

The right tools and resources are critical for successful citizen development. It starts with providing developers with a sanctioned low-code/no-code platform but includes much more.

You should establish a dedicated platform help desk. Additionally, it’s important to provide platform and security training along with documentation.

You'll also need integration support, development sandboxes, templates, and reusable modules. This ensures your citizen developers have everything they need to learn and grow.

6. Promote Creativity in a Safe Environment

A safe citizen development environment includes at least two key components: a citizen developer community and a secure, sandbox environment.

A citizen developer community provides peer support and IT guidance, allowing developers to learn and grow.

Secure developer sandboxes provide safe environments for developers to innovate, experiment, and, most importantly, make mistakes.

These completely self-contained environments encourage citizen developer creativity. They can try out new ideas unconcerned with disrupting other apps, databases, or systems.

7. Control Access

Access control can be very effective in reducing potential citizen developer risk. Platforms, tools, and resources should be accessible only to authorized developers.

This simple action helps protect program security and gauge needed resource levels. It also provides a starting point for setting up and tracking KPIs.

8. Monitor Usage

Even with proper guidance and support, citizen developers can cut corners or ignore policies. They may go completely rogue and engage in shadow IT.

Alternatively, inadvertent mistakes can occur even with the best intentions.

It’s essential to monitor citizen developers and their activities to safeguard against risks. With citizen development, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

9. Know When to Take Over

Citizen developers can be overly ambitious at times. As a result, they may take on a project that's too complex for their skillset.

When citizen developers get in over their heads, it’s up to IT to help them out. Through regular monitoring, IT will know when they need to step in and take over.

10. Track KPIs

As part of a structured development framework, IT should implement appropriate policies and KPIs. Tracking KPIs ensures that citizen developers create apps that drive results.

Leadership should sit with IT and citizen developers to determine how they will measure success. Transparency is key here.

Once your business establishes KPIs, you can use them as benchmarks to gauge the success of citizen developers and the applications they create.

Reflecting on KPIs and using them to inspire your citizen developers is critical. Success is a powerful motivator. At the same time, it allows your team to learn from mistakes and grow.