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Citizen developers push the pace in BizDevOps

BizDevOps is one way that companies large and small look for creative ways to break down functional silos and reduce operational friction.

The concept of BizDevOps is about bringing business leaders, developers and operations teams together to more quickly create and deploy software. Recent trends in BizDevOps include the introduction of low-code/no-code development platforms, a process that brings more productivity to the equation and enables business analysts and so-called citizen developers to have a bigger hand in building applications.

When all stakeholders are involved in a continuous release cadence, proponents say, a business can create value by releasing features faster and providing visibility throughout the deployment pipeline to business users as well as technical teams.

The origins of BizDevOps are rooted in decades-old manufacturing practices, according to Derek Weeks, vice president and DevOps advocate at Sonatype, an open source governance and DevSecOps software provider in Fulton, Md. And the aim is the same: serve customer needs by delivering high-quality offerings faster.

Marketing as an example

Though software development and IT operations teams benefit from DevOps adoption, the practices are not limited to technical disciplines, said Weeks, whose company not only provides DevOps tools, but employs the concepts in its own work. "For example, the marketing team at Sonatype started applying BizDevOps practices through low-code platforms three years ago and has since accelerated releases of content and programs by as much as 30 times."

The team now thinks in terms of systems that flow from product design to customer experience, using low-code platforms and automation to act, and react, nimbly. "Through continuous monitoring of activities available in their tools, the marketing team amplifies feedback loops that enable quick changes and problem resolution," Weeks said. "At the same time, we've embraced a culture of continuous learning, where experimentation is rewarded, and taking risks accelerates growth."

Despite the assistance and productivity boost afforded by low-code platforms, programming is often still required.

Marketing is an obvious candidate for BizDevOps disruption, said Leon Fayer, a vice president of OmniTI, a web scalability and performance provider in Fulton, Md.

"The marketing technology concept, where IT is a function of marketing because its main purpose is to support new initiatives, has been explored more and more in the industry. Allowing business units, like marketing, to dictate the platform needs to support their app development effort will push that idea even further," Fayer said. "One of the biggest draws of DevOps is the promise of speed, and the low-code concept certainly plays to that. It reduces time from application inception to getting the product to customers' hands. It also naturally continues to improve on language of communication between IT and business units."

Even so, Fayer sees the concept of low-code BizDevOps as something of a misnomer. "You are not eliminating software development from application building. You're just shifting those resources to other layers of the stack."

At San Francisco's FinancialForce, the primary use of low-code is to help citizen developers build tailor-made applications quickly and without relying on developers.

Built on Salesforce's Force platform, the FinancialForce product employs low-code tools and the Heroku platform-as-a-service offering. "We use the breadth of tools, ranging from the ease-of-use, drag-and-drop, low-code/no-code stuff all the way to things that computer scientists need to write on Heroku or [Amazon Web Services]," said Tod Nielsen, CEO at FinancialForce. "But, for productivity, nothing beats putting the low-code tools in the hands of business users."

Low-code users and apps

Forrester Research identified three types of non-programmers who are most likely to use low-code techniques: line-of-business developers, business developers and power users. According to Forrester, these so-called citizen developers typically build apps that run in multiple departments or even an entire organization.

"Mostly what people build are workflows and processes that span multiple back ends and impose some kind of coordinating process on top of those back ends -- where they build portals or dashboards or event-processing apps," said John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester. "But the sweet spot is that middle ground, where you have a bunch of back-office systems."

The largest segment of the low-code market in terms of revenue is products designed for professional developers, Rymer said. Pro developers use low-code instead of coding to make things more productive for them. "You would not build a global airline reservation system with one of these low-code platforms," he said. "They're not designed for that."

Rymer says there are two ways for low-code platforms to fit into BizDevOps scenarios, or what Forrester refers to as modern application practices and tools. One is as a way of implementing these practices from the low-code platform itself. Many of the low-code platforms, such as Mendix or OutSystems, employ visual tooling, but also feature Agile tools that create user stories and burn-down lists. The entire deployment process is automated, and the systems support one-button deployment.

The second way people use these tools is to externalize the file and the metadata generated by the low-code platform. This can be stored in GitHub or applied directly to a DevOps toolchain.

"So you can have a single view or single management construct for both the coding projects you're doing and for the low-code projects you're doing," Rymer said.

Meanwhile, despite the assistance and productivity boost afforded by low-code platforms, programming is often still required, especially where integration is concerned. The two primary reasons for having to code around low-code platforms is to add integrations or create custom user interfaces, particularly for consumer-grade mobile apps.

For BizDevOps, the low-code platforms are all pretty good for connecting with back-end systems and data sources out on the web using representational state transfer or Simple Object Access Protocol APIs, but older systems may not have these.

"Those middle-ground apps are all about pulling data from a variety of sources," Rymer said. "So integration is really important to their success. And there are all of these old applications that don't even have a SQL interface. So you have to screen scrape or build some custom adapter that allows you to get at them however you can. And that's where these low-code products just don't help you."

Low-code for BizDevOps not for all

Moreover, not everyone is sold on the idea that citizen developers and apps without code will lead to success in BizDevOps.

"I don't think that low-code dev platforms help with BizDevOps because often the low-code or no-code platforms are there to bypass developers and operations to quickly get applications up and running," said Edwin Yuen, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "It's possible that once the low-/no-code applications mature and need further development or support, it would be an ideal candidate to flow into a BizDevOps model. The question is whether BizDevOps can be adopted by all parties fast enough to reduce or even eliminate the need for the business to use low-/no-code dev."

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, agreed. "Developing software has always been about business as a goal; calling it BizDevOps is not going to solve this," he said. "Low-code is all about zero DevOps. That's part of the empowerment of the technically savvy business user with the low-code platform. The last thing they want is to have some DevOps process on what they created. DevOps is internalized with the low-code tool using business owner. That's the beauty and speed of it. If someone creates some business logic in Excel, can you prevent them from emailing it?"

IT ops oversight is another story, he said. "It's the rigid process, slow software development that makes business users invest in a low-code solution to address a lack of automation, to reduce or eliminate an automation pain," Mueller said.

This was last published in February 2018

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Is the citizen developer movement a good idea? Why or why not?
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Great read. History shows that more tech-savvy line of business users won't wait for IT -- just look at how business users took charge of data with data visualization, CRM, CMS, and other tools. "Citizen development" of mobile apps or field apps is the next domino. 
Of course the problem with Shadow IT is that IT Depts. (responsible for data governance, security and compliance) lose control of the data when it's out in SaaS systems or Excel spreadsheets. That's unacceptable with corporate fear around data security. 
A platform that truly allows business transformation must empower IT to do what it does best (securing the data) while enabling business users to do what they do best (utilize their domain expertise to gain operational efficiencies). No-code OR low-code is not the answer -- the answer is a platform that does BOTH.
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