Citizen Developers Will Drive The Next Wave of Software Innovation

A citizen developer is a user who builds business applications using low-code platforms without any knowledge of coding. This term can also apply to non-professional or non-technical developers who create business apps in the workspace using tools like Zapier, Jira, Trello, and other automation tools.

How Do You Know If You're a Citizen Developer?

If you are someone who creates or has created business apps or automated processes using low-code platforms without any formal training in coding, such that the apps can be seamlessly shared with people via app stores or an intranet, then congratulations! You can consider yourself a citizen developer.

Where Citizen Development Can Make an Impact

Citizen development is a powerful alternative for organizations looking to enable business professionals to build their own software solutions without assistance from engineers. The market for low-code tools, which can extend application building beyond professional developers, has grown from a few billion in 2016 to a projected $15 billion by the end of 2020.

As organizations shift towards citizen development, they might experience faster time to delivery, automation of complex workflows, simplified access to data, better decision making, and more empowered employees.

Some organizational areas where citizen development can be useful are:

Operations

Many CIOs and IT managers have a long list of development projects requested by their business units and departmental managers, and the list gets longer every month. Citizen development comes to then rescue when non-engineers develop software solutions, such as a vendor portal or internal dashboard. This makes the development process faster and agile.

Product/project management:

Workflow automation has become very smooth due to a shift from manual software development to citizen development. Services like Mailchimp and Squarespace feature a drag-and-drop interface that lets people with no programming skills create complex HTML code, and business owners can easily automate their email sending process without any technical assistance.

Some great project management tools such as Asana, Jira, and Trello allow easy integration and are highly customizable, which makes the workflow smooth.

Design

When product designers settle on an interface, they can build it the way they like without explaining their prototype to any software engineers. This can reduce the number of iterations due to changes/updates. It also avoids any miscommunication between software engineers, designers, and business managers.

Commonly used tools for designing include Figma and Adobe XD, which are highly efficient and can easily be integrated into development and project management platforms.

Marketing/Sales

The marketing and sales departments often have the least knowledge of programming and coding. Thus, they can benefit from the citizen development process as they can design their own software without depending on the IT department of their organization.

Common Examples of Citizen Development

UX Prototyping

The design process used to be a tedious task, as designers would have to work on the design within a dedicated platform and then hand static designs off to developers to create interactive mockups. However, with the introduction of simple interactive design tools like InVision and Figma this process has become less cumbersome.

User Research

Before modern SaaS tools, there was no efficient way to collect feedback, run a survey, or filter results to obtain a deeper understanding. Now, however, there are many tools, such as SurveyMonkey or Hotjar, which enable non-technical users to collect user feedback, distribute it to team members, and gather insights into user behavior.

Database Management

Handling and processing data effectively is one of the most difficult tasks in an organization because a small mistake can turn your hard work into turmoil. Today, citizen developers can manipulate databases using cloud software like Airtable or Google Sheets. They can also pass data from a table into other apps using a no-code integration tool like Zapier.

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How Do Citizen Developers Help Your Business Grow?

There are various benefits of granting your non-technical employees access to a low-code application builder. Some of the most common benefits are:

Faster application development

Sometimes developing a custom application or a mobile app is a long and recursive process and ends up taking up to a year. However, the advent of low-code platforms and the booming industry of citizen developers helps reduce the development cycle by days.

Eliminate the IT skills gap

Low-code tools help you get quality software development out of employees who don't cost as much as software developers. Instead of hiring highly specialized or expensive engineers, you can effectively turn non-technical employees into engineers for certain types of projects.

Scale smoothly

Every company starts with just a web app or a basic website and then slowly progresses to hybrid or even fully native apps as the business grows. Expanding your digital assets is easier when it doesn't require a commensurate increase in your workforce. Moreover, most low-code tools have built-in quality assurance that safeguards against your assets becoming deprecated after a few months.

Widespread Effects of Citizen Development

With the increased use of low-code platforms, employees can build new applications or add new functions to existing applications. However, the IT team will still be there to create an underlying enterprise IT infrastructure.

Faster speed standards

Low code has enabled citizen developers to build apps quicker than before because it is a visual process using pre-built modules. Statistics suggest that low-code software development can potentially move 10-times faster than traditional methods. This will have the effect of reducing timeline expectations for both machine-assisted and conventional development.

Improved cross-departmental collaboration

By using low-code platforms, organizations can collaborate, model, and build new functionalities together. It’s not only a way for IT to self-service its apps, but also to bring the business side into development, so that teams are aligned on process and outcome.

Increased skill generalization

When anyone can develop an apps, then there's not much difference between a designer, product manager, or engineer. Citizen development reduces the need for specialized skill sets at each stage of the development process and blurs the conventional lines between departments.

Barriers to mass citizen development

Citizen development is easy and cost-effective to adopt, but some organizations have not leveraged it due to a few lingering limitations.

Security

Ensuring the security of applications and servers with so many citizen developers on board is an exceedingly difficult task. Large companies with many citizen developers can struggle with issues of governance and control.

If improperly managed, citizen development is inherently risky, because data becomes spread across multiple storage points. For instance, an automated connection between a design platform and a codebase could unintentionally pass sensitive data into an unsecured bucket. Before adopting citizen development, you must find a way to secure your data.

Onboarding and training

If you are looking to implement a citizen development policy where none has existed before, it might be a difficult task. You have to get all your organization's stakeholders together and explain how it furthers your goals. You will also need to create a policy that outlines the required people, processes, and technologies for different kinds of projects.

Niche Development Will Dominate

Many companies get software made up for their entire organization without thinking of the requirements of individual departments. With the advent of citizen developers, every department can build their custom applications for smooth functioning.

Low-code platforms are used to meet niche needs that many IT departments are unaware of. Most companies make an investment in the business software they think their staff needs, and individual departments are left to fend for themselves. Citizen development sidesteps this problem entirely.

Perhaps more importantly, the apps that emerge from these highly specific use cases will have widespread utility and could potentially be spun off into their own products. Its possible that companies will begin white labeling custom applications built by their non-technical employees with low-code tools, creating a secondary app development market as robust as the existing development sector.

Restructuring Your Team to Empower Citizen Developers

Before adopting citizen development in your organization, you should develop a deep understanding of its pros and cons. Analyze whether you really need to introduce it, and what kinds of change you're hoping to see as a result.

If your assessment supports its adoption, then you can ask department heads to designate pilot citizen developers within their teams. These employees can lead the way in adopting and implementing citizen development workflows and then train their coworkers to do the same.

Citizen Development Is the Future

Citizen developers tend to differ greatly from their engineer counterparts in several ways. In most cases, a citizen developer can design their applications and devices to present a solution to an existing problem at their workplace without depending on the IT department.

The Crowdbotics App Builder is specifically designed to support secure, rapid citizen development. The App Builder uses drag-and-drop tools to produce human-readable, production-ready code, bridging the usability gap for non-technical users and accelerating workflows for technical users.

Crowdbotics also offers professionally managed app development in which we build your entire app for you. Our expert PMs and engineers use the Crowdbotics App Builder to deliver custom applications in a fraction of the time required by conventional teams.

Originally published:

November 11, 2020