Debunking myths about citizen developers

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The term “citizen developer” is increasingly common among companies accelerating their digital transformation efforts. These individuals have different roles in organizations, but share a common ambition: to devise and build task-based apps that streamline work or improve operations in their area of ​​business.

Thanks to their insider knowledge, these employees are able to generate new web or mobile applications that solve specific business problems and speed up day-to-day work. Citizen developers usually use no-code or low-code software to build these apps.

According to Gartner’s prediction, civilian developers will soon outnumber professional developers by a ratio of 4:1. While these business analysts or business domain experts have no formal training in using development tools or writing code, they manage to create valuable business applications. Gartner encourages organizations to embrace citizen developers to achieve strategic goals and stay competitive in an increasingly mobile business world.

Despite the rise of citizen developers within organizations, many companies still reject the value and importance of citizen development. Let’s dispel some of the most common myths.

1. Low-code applications cannot compete with enterprise-grade applications

A common myth surrounding citizen development is that low-code applications cannot meet the demands of enterprise-grade applications. Enterprise-grade applications are built to support consistent integration with other applications and the existing IT framework. Because low-code development delivers business apps without requiring large amounts of programming, the long-standing belief is that low-code lacks the capacity to meet enterprise standards. This is no longer true.

Typically, citizen developers build low-code or no-code (LC/NC) apps for a specific business purpose, such as bridging gaps between systems or automating routine processes to improve team productivity. Often, narrow-scope task-based apps are created by citizen developers, while long-range apps with complex security and data requirements are still produced by professional developers, using mainstream programming languages. Typically, LC/NC software comes with pre-designed templates or drag-and-drop interfaces that take into account best development practices, general business requirements, and routine IT practices. The software guides citizen developers to quickly create the apps they need while adhering to best app design and development practices. This allows more employees to create great mobile and cloud applications that accelerate business tasks while minimizing risks to the organization.

As enterprise-grade applications are increasingly designed to be scalable and robust in the environments in which they are used, the technicalities and pre-engineered nature of low-code development can meet the required standards set by enterprise-grade apps. Low-code platforms allow complete enterprise-grade applications to be developed in days, contributing to why business leaders are increasingly making low-code development their top automation investment.

2. Alleged security risks associated with citizen development

Security is an essential part of any application. With security breaches on the rise and the consequences severe, such as ransomware, addressing security vulnerabilities should be paramount to any organization considering citizen development. Data security is usually the responsibility of IT departments, who identify and migrate any security risks during app development. However, just because an application is developed by a civilian developer using LC/NC software tools does not necessarily mean increased security risks. According to recent forecasts, LC/NC applications will account for 65% of development activity within the next two years. To meet these business expectations, most low-code platforms now come with built-in security features or code scans to enforce standard security practices. LC/NC software tool vendors now include a wide variety of built-in security features, such as file monitoring, user auditing, and code validation.

While security features in LC/NC software are becoming increasingly comprehensive, IT departments must ensure that all development software used by the company has been vetted and complies with company security policies. In addition, it can be a wise policy for IT teams to have an IT approval process for apps before they are officially used.

3. Citizen development creates shadow IT

Another widespread myth about citizen development is the creation of shadow IT groups, outside the designated groups. This means that application development can go unmanaged, unmanaged and of questionable quality. The reality can be very different. Many organizations struggle with low IT funding and resources. In these cases, citizen development can come to the rescue to provide rapid business solutions to meet rapidly changing business needs. The key to overcoming the risk of shadow IT in these situations is to establish strong governance and collaboration across the process.

Rather than slowing the efforts of citizen developers, IT teams should encourage these new app makers by providing guidelines and resources for creating apps that conform to IT best practices. One way is by adopting an approved LC/NC development tool. Some LC/NC platforms used by citizen developers are designed to eliminate technical complexity and provide complete transparency, control and governance based on the business needs of the users.

LC/NC platforms can also enable a collaborative environment between citizen developers and IT, allowing IT to maintain control of the development process.

A second way to encourage citizen development is by introducing citizen developer certifications and badges to celebrate achievements in app design or development.

The real benefits of citizen developers

Citizen developers can accelerate transformative efforts by using LC/NC software to build their own applications. Because citizen developers are typically employees in key areas within the organization, they are most aware of unique business needs and can develop mobile applications that are specific to the business. LC/NC software solutions empower virtually all of these employees to build mobile applications to help transform the business. The cost benefits are enormous.

Companies can introduce innovative apps, save working hours and attract more sales. Companies can save significant money by not hiring specialized developers or outsourcing app development projects. In addition, citizen developers can use LC/NC software based on pre-built modules that make software development many times faster than from scratch. This reduces the time it takes to develop, design, test, and deploy apps.

Citizen development isn’t just a fad to overwhelm IT teams, nor does it mean leaving employees to themselves. IT departments can play an important role in providing adequate resources and supporting the company’s digital transformation efforts. The benefits of citizen development far outweigh the risks.

However, business organizations must foster a concerted effort between their citizen developer and IT staff to meet business needs and maintain competitive advantage.

Instead of IT acting as a gatekeeper for technical innovation and digital transformation, IT teams should strive to empower citizen developers and work with them to solve business/technical problems.

Amy Groden-Morrison is VP of Marketing and Sales Operations for Alpha Software

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