The rise of the citizen developer and the low code platform

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Are you a stakeholder in a modern organisation? Perhaps you’re involved with the management of business processes within your company or simply frustrated by the slow pace of organisational change? If so, you may have heard tales of the rise of the “citizen developer” with increasing frequency over recent years. As the concept of “citizen” or “low/no-code” developers is becoming more popular and prevalent, and with products like our LEAP™ low code software playing a part in this technological revolution, we’ve prepared this article on the rise of the citizen developer and the low code platform to provide all the detail you need on the subject.

Read on for more on the following:

  • The history behind citizen development,
  • The definition of citizen developer,
  • Low code software and its role in citizen development,
  • The benefits of citizen development and low code software, and
  • The potential risks and considerations

Citizen development: the history

Up until recent times, sourcing new software within an organisation – whether by building or buying off the shelf – has often been a tricky prospect. Despite being the best placed individuals to know the needs of the business, owners, operators and users have rarely possessed the technical skills needed to develop bespoke software solutions from scratch.

Consequently, company stakeholders have needed to rely on external development teams to provide solutions, though these teams may not fully appreciate the precise requirements or significance of the project to the organisation. This privilege is something that businesses would pay six or seven-figure sums to accomplish, along with an investment of six months or more of painstaking development time. Additionally, organisations have had to settle for pre-existing off-the-shelf solutions which just about meet expectations.

As you will probably expect, neither option typically produces ideal software solutions that meet the demands of the organisation. Sadly, the phrase “good enough” in this case has regularly been an admission of begrudging defeat! Even worse, many solutions have been envisioned which never saw the light of day due to the conflict of justifying resource investment for “as-yet-to-be-seen” long-term benefits.

During these years when the “citizen development” idea had barely been conceptualized, we have witnessed the growth of the complexity of modern businesses and the tools they require. It has reached a point where fewer IT departments than ever are equipped with the resources needed to build tailored applications which deliver the high-tier functionality to equal these progressively higher expectations. Companies are therefore seeing massive IT department backlogs, the adoption of static SAAS solutions which refuse customisation, as well as generally sub-par solutions being used to plug critical organisational gaps without ever quite meeting ideal specifications.

This age-old problem created a quest to manufacture the ultimate resolution: a time in the future when the average business user could somehow alter software to their unique requirements, easily and on demand.

Definition of “citizen developer”

The term “citizen developer” has been around for a while now, its creation popularly attributed to the industry analyst firm Gartner. Despite its long life, it is only recently that the concept has begun to manifest in reality.

We mentioned that, in the past, application and software development was largely considered to fall under a specialist remit. Any developments by end-users have typically been limited in scope to single-user or workgroup solutions built in Microsoft Access and Excel.

Today, end-users are able to use software platforms to build applications or programmes at the departmental, enterprise or even public level by utilising the corporation’s or collective’s code, system or structure. This is a citizen developer – not a professional coder of applications but an aspirational amateur using simplified tools to create applications to meet the specific demands encountered during the course of their (or their team’s) work.

As a result, employees without specific programming qualifications are able to contribute significantly to the development of products which will prove vital to business operations.

How has this rise of the citizen developer been made possible?

Low code software and the citizen developer

The perceived dwindling of value in formal computer science and programming certifications today is directly attributable to the upsurge of ‘low/no code’ software.

These platforms utilise code abstraction and cloud computing services within simplified drag-and-drop user interfaces that allow non-programmers to define user experience, connect data, design application logic and – in other words – develop entire applications on the fly.

Software of this kind is only growing in popularity due to the potency and simplicity of the tools around event processing and triggering as well as data management, for example, which are elementary for most users to understand without any coding required. Another significant contribution is the increase in open APIs providing access to thousands of applications and assets which can be tailored and integrated in brand new solutions.

Those within the IT and development industries often doubt the capacity of citizen developers and the applications they build. Yet the capabilities above allow users to define solutions to a range of common scenarios. For example: when

1) a new customer enters your Customer Management system then,

2) a welcome e-mail is triggered to send to the customer, and

3) a reminder is added to the user’s calendar to pursue via phone one week later.

In previous times, this process is something that could have taken days or weeks to deliver if it ever passed the approval stage. Now businesses can take the lead, with this type of solution able to be developed within a few short minutes using low code tools such as our own LEAP Platform.

What are the benefits and risks of citizen development?

The key benefit arising from citizen development should be immediately evident. That is the ability to rapidly meet core challenges – some which that typical organisations have previously avoided due to resource limitations – by turning the average business user into a significant player in solutions development.

In small to midsize organisations, connecting low code software like LEAP to existing corporate systems is simple, empowering citizen developers to tackle a range of simple integration tasks. After a few days or weeks or training, enthusiastic developers can create solutions that increase efficiency, encourage collaboration and improve customer service within the organisation. From there it’s a small leap (no pun intended) to creating high-functioning customer-facing applications – all without formal programming experience and at a fraction of the typical cost.

Larger enterprises can find it tougher to tackle the challenges of integrating their disparate and often quite old applications and data stores with new low code applications. Many executives have also been vocal about fears of the issue known as “shadow IT” – a concern that development will occur without the company’s oversight which may damage existing systems and data or process integrity.

In reality, citizen development requires responsible corporate oversight to define standards and boundaries to ensure adherence to the architecture of the enterprise. On the other hand, there is a positive to be found in the redefining of the IT department’s role, now given new responsibility to support citizen developers with any especially intricate applications. Worries about security of compliance breaches can be avoided with the right level of involvement from these technical experts within the company. Moreover, many argue that this supports the progression of a new partnership between IT and the business – transforming the traditional relationship of each having to work around one another.

Further benefits of citizen development and low code software include: the easiness of making a start, the potential cost savings for the business as well as how quickly results can be delivered. The intuitive, visual development method is suited well to experimental and agile design principles which emphasise co-creation, customer feedback and the manufacturing of “minimum viable products” before over-investment occurs.

Does this mean that everybody in your business should be building apps all day every day? Of course not! However, with high-capability tools such as LEAP™ Low Code Platform becoming more and more popular, organisations found ignoring citizen developers will inevitably miss out on measures which reduce repetition, increase efficiency and empower positive interactions with technology. To squander such an opportunity – to empower those knowledge workers who possess the knowledge, skills, support and training to improve and automate business processes – would clearly be a mistake.

Summary

It’s clear that the time of the citizen developer is here, after many years predicting that it would come. This has been enabled by the present and continued rise of tools to empower business users, with no previous programming experience, to produce business-critical solutions. In summary, citizen developers can be expected to:

  • Solve business problems directly, rather than tolerating them
  • Unburden IT department resources for larger projects
  • Enhance organisational efficiency
  • Standardise and integrate previously sub-par (or “pulled together”) solutions

Interested in learning more about citizen development and how it can impact your organisation in terms of savings, efficiency and performance? Contact us and see how our LEAP Platform can empower your business.