Definition

citizen development

What is citizen development?

Citizen development is a business process that encourages non-IT-trained employees to become software developers, using IT-sanctioned low-code/no-code (LCNC) platforms to create business applications. This approach to software development enables employees -- despite their lack of formal education in coding -- to become citizen developers. They create and customize existing software programs to suit a user's specific needs and improve operational efficiency within a company.

These LCNC platforms include the necessary lines of code, so users simply drag and drop icons to create and update applications. These platforms' simple visual tools allow different application functions to connect components across business units, apply actions, test to make sure the programming works as expected and publish the new code.

What are citizen developers?

Citizen developers are empowered business users who create new or change existing business applications without the need to involve IT departments. In the past, employees seeking approval of even the smallest project faced frustration as their request languished in an overburdened IT department, sometimes for months. During that wait, internal business priorities most likely changed and the business's competition continued to adapt. Citizen developers are more agile, responding quickly to the dynamic business landscape.

The citizen development approach not only speeds innovation and the application development process, it also reduces backlogs and frees IT personnel to prioritize and grapple with more pressing businesswide issues. This approach simultaneously addresses security problems associated with shadow IT and third-party apps through transparency, resource sharing and monitoring among citizen developers and IT professionals.

The need for citizen development

Businesses that devote time and resources to the citizen development community have seen an uptick in efficiency and productivity. Previously, businesses wasted time waiting for IT personnel to solve a problem, but citizen development has become standard practice at many companies engaged in application creation.

Moreover, any employee who learns and understands the application of LCNC platforms can use it as a software developer or share that knowledge with a fellow employee, growing the citizen developer community. In both instances, operational efficiency increases in any business process.

Pros and cons of citizen development

The argument for or against citizen development is a comparison of time and targeted talent. Without question, the need for business applications will continue to increase. In this case, it's a matter of whether experienced employees without IT training can produce applications for consumption more quickly and with the end user in mind than IT professionals who can write complicated code but lack the expertise, understanding or interest of a targeted end user.

Pros

  • Reduces burden on IT departments. With the constant growth of applications and the regular need for troubleshooting existing apps, IT departments face difficult and mounting issues. Through LCNC, citizen development platforms ease the responsibility on IT personnel of creating apps and allow IT employees to handle other work. An IT department that isn't overwhelmed with requests can also monitor the risks and rewards of citizen development -- including necessary integrations and permissions required for an app to succeed.
  • Cost-effective. Citizen development creates a larger pool of employees with the ability to share resources and development tools. This approach reduces the need for IT professionals and the related costs, and it increases the technical understanding of everyone in the citizen developer community.
  • Increases productivity and efficiency. A focus on collaboration and speed improves efficiency and productivity. LCNC platforms use existing code to speed the creation of apps, and their ease of use enables user to make changes faster as a company evolves.

Cons

  • Constantly changing technology. With constant updates to applications and programs, consistent training and retraining of citizen developers is needed to keep pace with these revisions. Most citizen developers, especially those new to this business process, require guidance in becoming software developers.
  • Questionable quality. A lower-quality product can result if IT professionals don't maintain oversight of a citizen developer's work. From development to testing to the final product and its security, IT professionals remain an important piece in ensuring an application's quality and functionality.
Pros and cons of citizen development graphic
Here are some pros and cons of citizen development.

Professional developer vs. citizen developer

Citizen development grew from business analysts' realizations that too much responsibility was placed on professional developers, who were required to both create applications and troubleshoot existing applications. Because these IT pros had a backlog of requests from many departments, projects would sit around for months in their queue.

Instead, LCNC platforms now enable employees with no professional development experience -- citizen developers -- to create applications for fellow employees and customers.

Because citizen developers are more likely to be well-versed in their specialty than professional developers, apps created and updated by citizen developers -- properly supervised by professional IT developers -- are more likely to reflect the needs of users who are either part of the citizen developer community or benefit from their expertise.

Citizen development is here to stay and will continue to expand its role in application development. Today's businesses must therefore strike a balance between the speed and suitability of citizen developers' targeted creations and the security and oversight professional developers provide.

Tools and resources

To meet the needs of a changing marketplace, some enterprises are using citizen development platforms to improve business processes and interactions among companies and their customers. These tools are sometimes referred to as point-and-click platforms because they are easy to use. Here are some tools and resources available to the citizen developer community:

  • Mendix. This low-code platform is designed to accelerate application delivery and changes within an organization, without the need for professional IT developers. Mendix offers AI tools and the ability to create mobile apps.
  • Microsoft PowerApps. This is a low-code platform for everyday users and professionals. It enables app creation without writing code and also lets professional developers interact with data and metadata, create custom connectors and more.
  • Nocode Essentials. This basic collection of resources discusses several no-code and low-code tools and techniques.
  • Salesforce Lightning Platform. The CRM giant offers low-code tools through its Lightning Platform. Some of Salesforce's low-code tools include Lightning Object Creator, Lightning Flow Builder, Dynamic Forms and Dynamic Actions. AI tools are also part of the Salesforce set.
  • Zudy. Vinyl is Zudy's no-code development platform that enables users to quickly build enterprise applications, while integrating them with existing systems.
This was last updated in February 2021

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