In 2012, Gartner analyst Eric Knipp predicted the rise of the citizen developers amongst us. A citizen developer is that tech-savvy individual that creates workflows and processes for use across enterprises or even publicly, using standard software programs, that may be low-code or no-code, and drag and drop applications. These individuals are often outside of the IT department, with limited development skills.
On the surface, this seems fantastic and entrepreneurial, but can these projects hinder progress happening within IT, or are they simply moving business along faster?
Developers are in high demand at most companies and have skillsets that cannot be matched by a citizen developer, but by using the basic (perhaps “duct-taped” is a fair metaphor) version of an application created by the very person that will use it daily, a company could free up the valuable time of a developer.
The enterprise-level necessities that integrate with external sources should be managed by your development team and the department-level workflows can be handled by the citizen developers on your team. This may speed up your company and encourage all employees to bring fresh ideas to the table.
Speedier application development
As a result of those developers being in high demand, many needs are put on hold across the company, especially those that are specific to an individual department and not directly attributed to the company’s profit margins. But, as they say: necessity is the mother of all inventions. The citizen developer can create a workflow or process to speed up their own work, or the work of the department as a whole using tools readily available online.
By speeding up the work of each department, more work can be completed and the citizen developers can attribute their own development to the company’s profit margins. Who in management wouldn’t want that?
More versatility of workflows
By building applications from pieces of other applications, plugins, and tools, there is the ability to see how one workflow might also speed up another. It’s almost like building a Lego house; as you see the pieces come together, your idea will grow and could lead to further development.
When ServiceNow started to roll out to companies worldwide, it was considered a tool for IT departments. Since that time, it has morphed into an integral tool for HR, Accounting & Finance, and many other teams enterprise-wide. There’s no reason that citizen developers’ tools couldn’t morph in the same way.
Increased collaboration between departments.
It seems easy when considering how tools can be used across departments, to see how this would lead to an increase in collaboration between departments. Collaborations between HR and sales or marketing and sales, for example, would only strengthen any organization and align the company’s goals.
With every upside, there’s an inherent risk.
By piecing together applications from the parts that are readily available online or from other citizen developers within your company, there’s no way of knowing how secure the systems are. It’s possible that you are opening your company up to hackers or bots that could access company or employee information. This is a huge risk and one that should give you pause.
On a lower level, the risk could be as simple as becoming reliant on a duct-taped methodology that will not grow with your organization.
Convoluted processes/ messy workflows
One of the areas in which developers spend a lot of time is recreating workflows that have become outdated, convoluted, and messy to the point of being impossible to use. When an application is built by a citizen developer, there is no simple upgrade. It’s possible that the methods that fix or speed up one department could become incredibly time-consuming and expensive to fix.
All in all, citizen developers are not going anywhere and the entrepreneurial spirit they bring to your team can be infectious. We recommend encouraging them to get the job done but setting boundaries, strengthening the bonds of collaboration between departments, and allowing your IT team to have the final say should anything present a risk to the company. Without frank collaboration and clear leadership, animosity could grow between the teams and that entrepreneurial spirit will be squashed faster than you can say “entrepreneurial.”
Tech One IT has nurtured citizen developers and mentored entry-level technology experts through our Technology Apprenticeship Program (TAP). We also have teams of developers ready to help if you need help considering some of the workflows being used within your company. Get in touch now!