The Citizen Developer
Outlook 2024: The Citizen Developers are Coming! The Citizen Developers are Coming!
- By Howard M. Cohen
- December 19, 2023
Way back in February of 2019 at the Mobile World Conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that, given the state of the world, every company is now a software company.
"It is getting embedded in our world," he said. "Computing is a core part of every industry. A car is now a computer. Software skills are a valuable resource. I don’t think in ten years we will have these demarcations. We won’t have the tech industry and other industries."
He also pointed out that, "As software becomes part of every industry, it needs to mature, and be robust enough for different programs."
The Road to Citizen Development Has Been Long
Microsoft followers are accustomed to hearing and reading terms and phrases like “digital transformation,” “re-imagining,” “agility,” and “transformative experiences." When you pare away the verbiage, Microsoft’s great claim to fame remains the same: They have put the most powerful tools of computing into the hands of everyone. Given the company's business-purpose statement ("To empower every individual and every organization on the earth to accomplish more"), it could be said that Microsoft started enabling Citizen Developers as far back as 1975.
This makes it somewhat surprising that it took nearly 50 years to get to the place where most analysts agree that citizen development of software will become predominant in 2024. One major pundit boldly estimates that 80% of software will be developed with low-code/no-code (LCNC) tools in the coming year—which underscores the question raised by Nadella’s point: Are the software tools mature enough?
They had better be!
What Will it Take?
The predication that the majority of software will be developed without coding suggests several corollaries:
- LCNC tools are becoming sophisticated enough to use in the development of more and more meaningful programs, tackling higher and higher priority tasks.
- “Software” is becoming smaller, more modular, and more focused on specific tasks that don’t require the more sophisticated logic and functional inter-relations featured in most large suites.
- The non-technical rank and file employee who lives and breathes the company’s processes is becoming the key to future software success.
- The legendary delays in completing software development requests may now gradually abate, and perhaps eventually become a thing of the past.
- As more LCNC developers incorporate new technologies, those who fear the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) have a huge opportunity to become master of the AI before the AI becomes their master.
Rise of the Process Wonk
Every company has them: people devoted slavishly to process. Some even obsess about adhering to process precisely as specified, stay up nights imagining new improvements to existing processes, and become the go-to resource for any questions about how to get things done.
As LCNC platforms further integrate AI and become more and more flexible, with greater scope and reach, these Process Wonks will find themselves enjoying more agility than ever before. This will bring influence over the tools and their applications closer to operating departments than ever before, and may ultimately render the IT department more of a janitorial or operational function.
The predicted growth of Citizen Development brings with it the possibility of further accelerating the entire software improvement cycle.
DevOps involves having the IT operations department deploy code created by the software development team. As the users begin using the new code, Operations owns responsibility for gathering feedback and bringing it back to Development to inspire further code improvement.
Now remove the Development team and replace it with members of the user community. They’ll probably receive feedback organically as it happens, without the involvement of Operations. That suggests that neither Dev nor Ops will be involved, or perhaps even required. While removing players reduces the process cycle drastically, it also eliminates two points at which errors can be detected. This serves as an intrinsic value of DevOps.
But when software is being developed by members of the user community, that community has only itself to depend upon for error handling. Fortunately, they’ll be sitting adjacent to those who can correct the problem, so they can just lean over and suggest an update.
On the other hand, this does hold the possibility of replacing DevOps with Dev-Oops.
The change that is briefly described in this article has the potential to be profound. Managers, executives, and process owners need to invest time now to establish governance and develop new guidelines for how citizen-developed software will be requested, approved, developed, deployed, supported, updated, improved, and integrated as we enter 2024. The rules are changing and require re-visitation right away. You will likely find they don’t need to be updated or upgraded. Rather, they need to be replaced.
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.