What is a citizen developer?

The division between IT and business is blurring and organizations are seeing the rise of a new type of employee – the citizen developer.

A citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. In the past, end-user application development has typically been limited to single-user or workgroup solutions built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. However, today, end users can build departmental, enterprise and even public applications using shared services, fourth-generation language (4GL)-style development platforms and cloud computing services such as Salesforce.1

Why have citizen development?

IT Departments are understaffed as business makes greater demands – with more work than they can handle due to inadequate resources and funding so IT focuses on the most critical business needs and allowing others to fall to the bottom of the pile.  Unfortunately those items at the bottom may never see the light of day.  Citizen developers have stepped in to fill this gap.  Use of low-code platforms such as Salesforce have improved operational efficiency, reduced time to market and increased employee productivity.[4]

DIY by SME’s vs. IT’s ability to capture requirements and execute solutions[2] – In some cases a technology solution can be easier to implement and be more on the mark if done by a citizen developer that has deep subject matter expertise on the business and issues being addressed.

Reduced Maintenance Costs for No/Low Code solutions – It can be quite costly to develop custom applications using code.  Usually the development team that creates the application doesn’t stay to maintain it and funding for ongoing maintenance usually dries up.  Citizen developed applications are largely no or low code solutions deployed on SaaS or PaaS platforms.  Such applications usually require less maintenance and can be easily enhanced.[2]

Tech savvy business users are here!  More technically savvy individuals are entering organizations in non-technology functions.  These individuals are interested in taking on more of a technical role.  Given the right platforms, processes and governance these users can become citizen developers.[2]

What’s the risk?

Citizen developers are concerned with solving an immediate problem.  This focus results in a solution that helps business with its issue but may also not fit well into the overall IT ecosystem.[2]

Important parts of the complete development picture are sometimes not considered or defined by citizen developers:[6]

  • Who will support the application?
  • What other tools and applications will need to integrate with the application?
  • If there are bugs or problems, what will the wider impact be?

Making it work

“If citizen development is done properly in partnership with the IT department, then that can work, “ says Mark Driver, a research director at Gartner.  “There is a distinction between people who develop unbeknownst to IT – we call that shadow IT – and citizen developers who work in partnership with IT.”[5]

IT departments will need to evolve to support the rise of citizen development in a way to minimize risk to the organization.  IT provide citizen developers with approved or sanctioned SaaS or PaaS platforms, set security policies, define best practices and take on the role of guardian and mentor to citizen developers.[6]

References
1: www.gartner.com – Citizen Developer definition
2: 4 Reasons Why Citizen Developers May Be the Next Big Thing in Application Development
3: The Advent of the Citizen Developer (graphic)
4: ‘Citizen developers’ are ready to fill the gaps in enterprise applications
5: Can citizen developers bring shadow IT into the light?
6: Citizen Developers will ruin software discuss

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