Citizen Development is Here to Stay. Why Citizen Development is the Future

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Citizen Development is Here to Stay

Citizen Development is Here to Stay by Roshnee Shah

We live in an era of digitalization. Your business and IT users should not be working with outdated systems and paper forms and performing tasks manually. No one wants that – it’s not profitable for the business or the employees, it makes for frustrating user experiences, and it shows IT in a poor light. So rather than business users waiting for their requests to make it to the top of the IT backlog, they are — with little to no technical background — taking it upon themselves to turn things around. These business users utilize IT-approved tools to build apps that boost productivity, automate workflows, and help their team work in a modern way. We call this phenomenon – Citizen Development.

The why of citizen development

In a way, business users have always been building basic solutions with spreadsheets, desktop databases, etc. without IT approval. Business users building ad-hoc solutions in isolation is not new! But what’s new is the fact that 61% of companies either have or plan to have active citizen development initiatives. This move indicates that organizations understand the significance of citizen development and are willing to take to it the next level.

Gartner predicts that by 2023, the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers. This is a big shift! Application development which is primarily considered a domain of software developers is now being democratized. To understand what’s causing the move to citizen development, we need to look at two perspectives:

Keeping coding limited to a minority of people is not helping companies.

The IT angle

It’s no secret that IT teams spend most of their time just to keep the lights on in an enterprise. But that’s not the only expectation business has from IT. IT leaders are also under immense pressure to modernize the company’s infrastructure and build new apps that meet business and customer expectations. Our recent study found that 77% of IT leaders and 71% of business leaders agree that IT teams have a huge pipeline of new IT solution requests, which aren’t being built. To make the situation even more pressing, the software developer unemployment rate is below 1.9%. There simply aren’t enough developers out there to meet the demand.

In such times, keeping coding limited to a minority of people is not helping companies build the apps they need. If IT wants to move beyond maintenance, and start building applications that are innovative and provide the company with a competitive edge, they need to embrace and actively support citizen development.

Another important reason for IT to play an active role in citizen development is to govern shadow IT. If the business users are not given the right support in terms of process and technology, they will resort to unauthorized SaaS applications and tools like spreadsheets, desktop databases to build solutions that are basically quick-fixes duck-taped together; all of which the IT has no visibility into.

By 2023, the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers.

The business angle

Today’s business users are tech-savvy and expect the technology at work gives them the same user experience as the apps they use in their personal lives. Yes, B2C apps like Uber and Facebook have upped the UX game for B2B software. Imagine this – your business users can request a personal credit card (as a consumer) and get a decision on their application in a matter of seconds, but when it comes to work, they have to fill out paper forms just to request a company credit card and wait for days to hear back on the application.

Even worse is when the negative internal employee experience starts affecting your customer experience. For instance, the company back office is often a messy web of spreadsheets, emails, phone calls, and paper forms. It’s not uncommon for a customer support rep on a customer call to scramble the messy web of information – often encountering data quality issues – only to have a very dissatisfied customer!

It’s almost logical then with several convenient technology options at their disposal, business units prefer to build their solutions than wait for central IT to help out. Gartner survey on business unit IT confirms this – 46% of respondents stated that an increase for business-led IT spend was due to increased development of software, applications or databases. It’s simple – business users need the right technology, process, and IT support to efficiently perform their jobs, and they need it now! If not, the impact is far greater – high attrition rate, low job satisfaction, operational inefficiency, and more.

Business impact when IT doesn't deliver new solutions on time
Source: Digital Disconnect – A Study of Business and IT Alignment in 2019

What is citizen development?

Citizen development is about empowering business users to build applications on IT-approved technology like a low-code platform. With the platform’s visual drag-and-drop language, even someone with no coding experience can easily build apps (while IT still has the control). Typically, citizen developers build applications to improve their day-to-day productivity or even just improve an existing business process. Think of an app to track stock in the warehouse, forms to standardize information collection, workflow orchestration, etc.

Case in point

Yasmijn Joosten is a citizen developer at Kuehne + Nagel, one of the world’s leading logistics companies. Yasmijn has no software development background but is using Mendix low-code to create apps and optimize operational efficiency at Kuehne + Nagel.

Citizen development with Mendix for a logistics company.
One of the apps Yasmijn built helps warehouse workers perform their jobs more efficiently. The app is a standalone module that’s integrated with another app running on the wrist tablet of warehouse workers. The app Yasmijn built replaces an existing manual process – paperwork and a color-coded sticker system – to mark parcels for the carriers that transport them. The warehouse workers use the new app on their wrist tablet to scan the parcel and the app guides them to the right pallet the parcel should go on. Workers then scan the pallet to make sure the parcel is placed on the right pallet. If not, the app tells them which pallet is correct.

Every step is checked by a scan of a barcode – it’s easy to use, fast, and helps workers do the right thing. For Kuehne + Nagel, it saves them the cost of having an entire pallet of parcels loaded into the wrong truck for transportation.

What’s next?

There’s no denying – citizen development is happening! What’s next and what’s needed is for IT along with business to formally adopt a citizen development program and empower users to spend more time on value-add strategic activities over manual grunt-work.

Welcome to the modern age of citizen development – isn’t it better this way?

Author Info

Roshnee Shah