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01 July 2018

Why “I’m Not Technical” Is No Longer An Excuse

It’s a daily business dilemma in the era of digital transformation: modern software solutions can offer a whole world of possibilities with regards to streamlining processes, reducing inefficiency and boosting productivity, but the IT department can’t keep up with the demand.

Busy putting out fires with existing applications and fending off the ever-evolving threat of cyber-crime, IT professionals simply don’t have the time to come up with 101 applications to meet the daily needs and wants of individual departments. That’s where citizen developers come in.


What is a citizen developer?

Essentially, a citizen developer refers to anyone working outside the IT department who, despite their lack of formal training or education in computer science, is able to design and implement software tools which meet the bespoke needs of their sector. These individuals may not have the technical knowhow to write code or create complicated programmes, but are ideally placed to recognise department-specific problems and envisage simple yet effective solutions to them.

Such problems are often seen as too small fry by the IT division, since the time and effort they take to pass through traditional channels of design, creation, testing and security compliance outweigh the marginal benefits they bring. Even when they are addressed, these issues can often take weeks or even months to reach a resolution – a turnaround time that’s simply unacceptable in today’s modern business world. Stepping into the breach, citizen developers can provide that targeted, accelerated support.


I’m not technical enough to be a citizen developer… am I?

Of course, the conundrums described above are nothing new. For years, employees exasperated by an unresponsive IT department have pursued their own makeshift solutions, often bypassing security protocol and adopting unprofessional coding practices. This has resulted in “shadow IT”, as those dabbling in matters they have neither the savvy nor the skill to manage properly open up a Pandora’s box of red security flags, leading to more headaches for IT when it has to clean up the mess.

However, the advent of low-code development platforms means that citizen developers can now use intuitive and declarative app creation tools which have already been given the nod by IT to put together quick fixes to a whole host of bugs and inefficiencies that would have otherwise gone ignored. The rise of business-specific low-code platforms like K2 and Mendix empowers users to create point-and-click solutions to their problems without going rogue and allows IT to provide testing, offer support and ensure security compliance on the whole process. A lack of technical knowhow is no longer an obstacle to becoming an accomplished citizen developer.


What might this process look like?

The traditional route of internal app creation required a myriad of different individuals within a company to collaborate effectively and jump through numerous hoops to bring their vision to fruition. For example, analysts would need to identify the issue in the first place, technicians to translate that into a blueprint for resolution, developers to bring it into being, testers to make sure it is user-friendly, security experts to defend it against cyber-attacks and a manager to oversee the whole process.

Now, those varying roles and disparate steps can be distilled into the work of just one or two individuals. The citizen developer recognises the problem and adapts existing software to meet it using straightforward low-code platforms and building tools. Then it’s simply a case of the IT department lending a helping hand and a watchful eye to make sure the app meets requisite standards, as well as offering support and maintenance where necessary. Hey presto! Via the use of an intranet app store, the solution has leapt from the drawing board to the delivery room in no time at all.


What’s in it for me?

Of course, those still unconvinced by the simplicity of the process may view becoming a citizen developer as just one more thankless task that adds to their workstream without any tangible benefits. However, by their very nature, citizen development solutions are designed to help those who use and need them most, whether it be automating a menial chore or streamlining a whole series of processes to offer better time-efficiency. In addition to boosting productivity, becoming a citizen developer can have personal advantages, as well.

A recent survey conducted by Filemaker Inc (a subsidiary of Apple) found that almost half of the hundreds of citizen developers they interviewed (48%) said they experienced greater work satisfaction as a result of their newfound abilities. 42% cited a boost in confidence, 29% reported greater recognition from their colleagues and 26% said they now felt more motivated to excel in their role. Clearly, citizen development can be a boon for the business and the individual alike.


Citizen developers an exploding population

We’re all familiar with the phrase “look after the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves” – and a similar approach to business strategy can pay equally handsome dividends. Addressing and rectifying miniscule problems may seem to have a negligible effect in isolation, but on a company-wide scale, this tactic can result in an organised, efficient operation which moves nimbly and reactively to meet the ever-changing needs of the consumer and stay one step ahead of the competition.

Essential though it is, the IT department is simply not equipped to provide this kind of agility. The citizen developer, working in tandem with the software and security specialists, is far more suited to the role. The sun may have set on shadow IT, but it’s only just rising for the citizen developer.

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