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How citizen developers offer IT relief -- and headaches

Low-code application development platforms enable citizen development, where anyone can build software. While this approach can be a boon to productivity, it carries definite risks.

How citizen developers offer IT relief -- and headaches

There's too much development work, and not enough talented developers. Enterprises must deal with coding skills shortages, whether they hire contract help, train up more dev personnel or turn to low-code platforms -- an increasingly popular method.

With these low-code application development options, nontechnical employees called citizen developers rely on simple graphical user interfaces or model-driven platforms to create, generally speaking, non-mission-critical applications that improve business productivity. Because developers don't have to write every software component, these low-code application development platforms should free them up to work on more timely or valuable features.

But, how much can you really trust citizen developers, who might not have a sense of technical and legal limitations when they put together a workflow and connect to business data? In this infographic, we break down the pros and cons of citizen developers, and take a peek at the ascension of these low-code platforms.

This was first published in August 2019

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What are your biggest long-term concerns about low-code app development platforms?
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I think the concern is not so much with low-code platforms, but the way they're applied. Citizen developers may lead to a similar situation as we had in the late 90s and early 2000s in which we had an IT landscape of tightly coupled application, Excel spreadsheets and Access databases we had to untangle. With citizen developers one can imagine there's less guidance or control over the (enterprise) architecture and application quality (including non-functional aspects such as maintainability). In such cases the benefits of low-code platforms (as high-productivity platforms) can be misused...
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That's a great point, Dennis. I'm curious to see how these platforms evolve in the next few years. Do you think there's enough openness and transparency in these platforms to attract more professional developers in the near future? Curious to see how vendors pitch to those users and make a case for more mission-critical apps. And if you get more pro devs onboard, I'd imagine they can cut through some of the gray area and smooth the path for citizen devs.
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Funny you mention that, as that’s where you see a difference in how the different platforms market themselves. For example OutSystems puts itself forward as a high-productivity platform rather than a platform for everyone to develop, whereas Mendix or BettyBlocks tend to do differently. Low-code platforms are sometimes seen as a silver bullet to get rid of tedious maintenance, but the last few years already taught us that even with low-code technical debt is introduced into an organization, whether its complexity in the models, not adhering architecture standards (like the 4LC) or even inefficient custom SQL. We supply our clients with more technical reviews on for example OutSystems application to uncover that debt and help control the applications. That’s also a way to keep citizen development under control.
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