The Citizen Developer

The Key Role of Citizen Developers in Creating Digital Transformation

You may already be hesitating to read this article because it includes that most overused buzzphrase, Digital Transformation (DX). Would you feel better if we called it "Improving Business Functions Using Technology to Better Support People and Their Enjoyment of Their Work" (IBFUTBSP)?
Okay. "DX" it is.

Closer to the Challenges
Professional developers (those who love code) often must spend significant amounts of time interviewing people in the department or the business they are developing for. This time is spent in extensive discovery; learning all about the processes, procedures, objectives, and considerations that drive the business. Only then can they create ways to improve upon them by applying technologies. That's what real DX is all about.

Citizen developers are normal people who shudder at the mention of the word "code," and who learn to use integrated development environments (IDE) that give them a simple drag-and-drop methodology for identifying and connecting processes and other application components to form functional applications.

These citizen developers live in the department or business that is considering DX. They come to the table already familiar with everything the coders have to discover. Beyond the time saved, the deep, intimate knowledge these citizen developers have clearly benefits the project under development. The result is faster development of a more robust, more effective application, usually at lower cost.

On the Subject of Costs
DX is usually thought of as an extensive, expensive undertaking. Lots of new equipment to be purchased. Expensive developers creating new applications from scratch. A forklift upgrade to the infrastructure.

Citizen developers have the potential to create meaningful DX without any of these burdens. They are only interested in the core definition of DX, making things work better, faster, less expensively to help people do a better job and enjoy doing it much more.

Since they always start from the processes already in use, citizen developers can be more targeted more accurately than their code-cutting counterparts. New hardware, software, or infrastructure are only considered part of the initiative occasionally.

In many cases, the end-product from an IDE may ideally suit the need and be used as-is. In worst case, the resulting program is given to the professionals to expand upon, meaning they get a head-start on development. It's based on deep knowledge of the user community, and it's already partially baked! Developers need spend much less time in discovery and development. Forrester suggests that this partnership approach, first citizen developer then professional developer, has "the potential to make software development as much as 10-times faster than traditional methods."

Not only does this decrease the cost of the current project, it frees up the professional developers to further work their way through the backlog of requests they are plagued by. Other valuable applications are developed sooner, making time-to-value shorter. A win for everyone.

Relationship Value
Perhaps the most important value to appreciate is the improvement in relationships fostered by citizen development throughout your enterprise. Today, IT managers find themselves confronted with bills for services they know nothing about, because they were ordered by a departmental manager who grew tired of waiting for them to get to his or her request. The service is seldom compliant with company standards and starts life completely out of control. Previously, most IT managers had to battle with such Shadow IT activity.

By creating and nurturing citizen developers, IT managers can eliminate the need for Shadow IT by cooperating with those department managers through a member of their staff assigned to be their citizen developer. This also overcomes the departmental concern that IT doesn't care about them. Since the citizen developer is a member of the departmental team, they are far more driven to produce an extraordinary result, which improves overall confidence that the problems can be solved.

It also promotes innovation as the citizen developer works more and more closely with other members of his or her own organization to add more and more to their application.

In any culture where the IT department has come to be considered an "other" organization separate and apart from the core business, citizen development has the potential to draw everyone closer together as a more effective collaborative team.

Various studies suggest that between half and three-quarters of businesses are already engaged in some form of citizen development initiative, with plenty more in the planning stage.

Greater value can be obtained by those who see citizen development as a more all-encompassing opportunity to dramatically improve their organization as they work to achieve digital transformation (You know, IBFUTBSP).

About the Author

Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.