In the face of a rapidly changing market and growing customer expectations, companies must seek new ways to increase their competitiveness. One of the solutions that is gaining popularity is using the potential of citizen developers – employees who, while not professional programmers, can create applications to improve the operation of the enterprise. Let’s take a closer look at how citizen developers can contribute to the development of your company. Read on.

What is a citizen developer?

A citizen developer is a person who, without formal training in programming, can create web or mobile applications that fit into a company’s digital environment and are functional. They can create automations and applications that are strictly tailored to their own needs or the needs of others in the company. Usually, these are simple solutions that are created in a short time, often using platforms:

  • no-code – where applications are created without writing any code by dragging and dropping pre-built components, such as in Microsoft Power Apps,
  • low-code – where solutions require minimal code writing skills, just like in Apps Script or Appian.

Low-code and no-code platforms are a must for citizen developers. They allow them to build applications in days or even hours instead of weeks or months. As a result, ordinary workers can quickly meet their needs and solve problems without having to wait for help from IT.

For example, an HR professional may create a time management application that automates adding meetings to the calendar, streamlining internal processes and saving developers’ time.

What is the relationship between citizen development and implementing AI and automation?

The latest AI tools, such as ChatGPT and GitHub Copilot, open up new possibilities for citizen developers. They allow you to ask a question about a desired functionality in natural language, and the algorithm will generate ready-made code or even an entire application in response to the prompt.

For example, a salesperson might ask ChatGPT to create a mobile app for tracking sales leads. The chatbot will ask a few questions explaining the exact requirements, and then generate the app code and (in the ChatGPT Plus version) also user interface mockups. Such a process will take only an hour or two.

It will be even easier to get a solution that is supposed to be just another automation in a popular low-code tool. There is a high probability that we will get the right code with instructions on how to run our new automation.

Citizen developers can implement AI-based solutions on their own and speed up automation in their companies without involving specialists. However, AI tools cannot yet be expected to generate fully working solutions on the first try.

They are more like skilled collaborators of citizen developers than tools that can replace the work of people who know at least the basics of programming. Often you have to correct solutions repeatedly or suggest to ChatGPT how to solve a problem. This allows you to obtain a finished version of the application much more quickly, but it’s not a one-click task.

citizen developer

Source: DALL·E 3, prompt: Marta M. Kania (https://www.linkedin.com/in/martamatyldakania/)

How can citizen developers help your company?

Here are several key benefits of employing individuals who, in addition to their specialization, also take on the role of citizen developers within the company:

  1. Accelerating digital transformation. By spreading your application development skills across a broader group of employees, you can increase the speed of delivering innovative solutions by up to 90%. As a result, you can catch up with the competition and bring new products to market at an impressive pace.
  2. Improving digital employee experience. Citizen developers can build exactly the applications they need for their everyday work. As a result, they are more willing to use them, more engaged, and more productive. They also don’t have to wait for months until the IT department finds the time to implement their ideas or until their supervisor decides to purchase software that will make their work easier.
  3. Increasing the adoption of new technologies. Employees are more likely to adopt solutions created by their peers who share their mindset and understand the specifics of their work. Thanks to citizen developers, the reach of new technologies is much broader than with the traditional model of delivering off-the-shelf systems by IT.

How to prepare a company for working with citizen developers?

To fully harness the potential of citizen developers, companies need to create appropriate conditions. Here are five key steps:

  1. Recruitment and training. Many companies already have programming “handymen” who help employees create small automations. Others, however, must recruit willing employees or train the team to use selected tools, such as those for building applications or analyzing data. Some organizations also require certification of skills before a citizen developer can make changes to the organization’s IT systems.
  2. Tools. It is necessary to provide citizen developers with access to low-code/no-code platforms and repositories of ready-made components and models to facilitate their work. Basic access to tools such as Make or Zapier is free; however, if a citizen developer wants to use more advanced features or manage access, purchasing a subscription will be required.
  3. Community support. To truly harness the potential of citizen developers, it is worthwhile to provide them with opportunities for growth, such as organizing hackathons, competitions, and meetups, allowing them to share knowledge and enhance their skills.
  4. Risk and value control. However, having citizen developers in the enterprise is not without its challenges. A critical aspect of the IT developers’ work within the enterprise is ensuring their security. This is important to emphasize because new no-code/low-code developers often have little experience in software security. It is advisable to establish a unified policy for data security, compliance, and the continuity of business systems in your organization. Additionally, it’s important to assess the real impact of the implemented solutions to avoid discovering that they don’t genuinely enhance your team’s efficiency.
  5. Innovation culture. It is also crucial to build a culture of experimentation, knowledge-sharing, and rewarding innovative ideas among employees in the company. This way, more employees will have the opportunity to “get hooked” on citizen development.

Which companies have benefited the most from citizen developers?

Many companies, both large and small, have already benefited from the opportunities presented by employees independently designing small IT solutions. Here are three companies that have achieved significant success in implementing solutions created by citizen developers.

Accenture

Accenture is a company specializing in business and technology consulting services. They implemented the Microsoft Power Platform to enable employees to quickly create applications and workflows. The primary goal was to accelerate data management within the company. However, the company recognized that citizen development significantly increased organizational productivity and flexibility. As a result, over 8,000 applications were created by citizen developers within six months in the company.

Accenture also fosters a culture of knowledge sharing by organizing presentations of solutions created by citizen developers. In this way, the company aims to help employees develop skills and independently customize technologies.

Toyota

Toyota, a leading automobile manufacturer, has created a center of excellence that trains employees on the Power Platform, but also encourages them to experiment on their own and share their results. The company holds an annual “Automation Summit” where teams present their innovative citizen development projects.

Toyota is encouraging its employees to believe that you don’t need a PhD to come up with valuable solutions. They see citizen development as a chance for practically anyone who’s interested.

citizen developers

Source: Microsoft (https://customers.microsoft.com/en-us/story/763052-toyota-motor-north-america-automotive-power-apps)

IKEA

IKEA takes citizen developers seriously. It has established a Power Community of 4,000 members to help with the adoption of low-code technology. The company also rewards those who automate tasks and implement innovations through citizen development. IKEA recognizes that this approach allows employees to focus on their core activities instead of wasting time on repetitive tasks.

citizen developers

Source: Microsoft (https://customers.microsoft.com/en-us/story/1686198659059020881-ikea-retailers-power-apps-en-france)

Summary

Citizen developers are invaluable assets in helping organizations accelerate their digital transformation. They enable you to innovate faster and create solutions that are perfectly tailored to your organization’s needs – after all, citizen developers create them to make life easier for themselves and their colleagues.

To effectively collaborate with citizen developers, it is essential to provide appropriate training, tools, and governance for this group of employees. If you do this, you will gain a team of superheroes ready to optimize your company.

citizen developers

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"We are all developers". How can citizen developers help your company? | AI in business #74 robert whitney avatar 1background

Author: Robert Whitney

JavaScript expert and instructor who coaches IT departments. His main goal is to up-level team productivity by teaching others how to effectively cooperate while coding.

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