The digital era is hurried and continually evolving. For businesses that are developing and implementing new technologies, it is a necessity to automate and optimize their processes in order to keep up. This ends up being a problem in itself, though, as professional developers are a finite and often strained resource, making app development difficult to achieve in a timely manner. In fact, over half of IT leaders claim to struggle with a lack of IT talent to keep up with the current demands on their department. As the demands on the limited number of developers continue to grow, the pace of business only hastens.
Citizen developers are proving to be an excellent way for organizations to respond to this lack of available professionals. Instead of hiring a larger (and more expensive) IT department, businesses can turn to their own team for the innovative talents they need for app development. Gartner defines "citizen developers" as users who create "new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT." In simpler terms, a citizen developer is not a professional developer, but they use tools available to them to develop apps that they and/or their team can use in their work.
Citizen developers are an often-untapped resource for many businesses. Their ability to automate workflows and processes saves companies both money and time, so it is in your best interest to enable the rise of citizen developers within several departments of your business whenever and wherever possible. Deciding to make it a goal to encourage citizen developers within your organizational structure is easy enough, but knowing exactly how to do so is not always clear. Here are three ways to make the most of the citizen developers in your business and take full advantage of what they are capable of creating.
1. Get to know your citizen developers
The first step in getting to know your citizen developers is figuring out what their skills are. You will be surprised to find out just how much minor experiences your team members have had that could be an advantage when learning how to become a citizen developer. Maybe they have no formal knowledge of software development, but they are well versed in tools such as Microsoft Excel. Perhaps they have created web applications of their own in their free time for a club they participate in. Alternatively, maybe they remember learning a coding language vaguely in college. Perhaps a few of them have experience in using document management and collaboration tools.
Sure, none of these facts makes any of these employees bona fide IT experts. However, this information about your citizen developers all points to your team having skills and a desire to learn that will be useful when developing their own applications and solutions. By understanding your team's basic skillsets and thinking outside the box about what their nonwork-related skills might bring to the table, you will be able to assemble your citizen developers and improve how you utilize their skills. So, when you're assembling your team, dig deep and ask about anything and everything they might know that could potentially be beneficial in the development process – you never know until you ask.
2. Give them an all-encompassing, low-code platform to use
If your citizen developers are using multiple platforms for their work, you are missing an opportunity to enable them further. Multiple platforms overcomplicate the development process and are more difficult to maintain. Having multiple stand-alone apps makes the optimization of business processes inherently less optimized, as the apps themselves are disjointed. A single, unifying platform can centralize the environment of your citizen developers and integrate their efforts for the entire company to utilize more easily.
Additionally, there are platforms available to consolidate your citizen developers' efforts and make the process of developing more intuitive for non-professionals. Low-code and no-code platforms allow for the creation of software solutions (apps, add-ons, etc.) with user-friendly drag-and-drop features. Low-code platforms operate under the notion that anyone within your company can become a developer, making them are extremely useful for companies hoping to enable as many employees as possible to become citizen developers. They require little to no coding in the process of app development, allowing users of all backgrounds to create their own solutions in a fraction of the time that traditional software development takes. Low-code application systems are becoming increasingly popular in the business world in general, as not only do they cover an organization's needs, but they also give companies the opportunity to turn their sales reps, HR managers, accountants, marketing managers and everyone in between into a developer.
In addition to the tools that they provide for citizen developers, low-code software offers the potential to integrate several useful third-party applications. This further extends its potential usage by professional and citizen developers alike and eases processes such as importing and exporting documents, converting files, storing and moving data, and several other useful functions. Though each individual low-code platform provider differs in its ability to integrate various third-party apps and software, the vast majority can incorporate third-party applications using web services without the need for professional IT assistance.
3. Provide your citizen developers with professional training and support
Even the most skilled citizen developers will likely need some professional help to get started. They might be unaware of important aspects of software development or the full capabilities of the platform your company is implementing. Someone with a professional background will, therefore, be required to instruct your citizen developers in the ins and outs of the platform they will be using to develop apps. Additionally, you will need professionals to implement and maintain the platform your company will be using.
Not only can professional developers train your citizen developers, but they can also help the entire company understand the ins and outs of the platform your citizen developers are using. A common statement made by companies who implement low-code platforms, for example, is that they found it useful to designate an IT expert to help them understand the full capabilities of the platform. In addition to training citizen developers and other users more effectively, professional developers can create larger, more complex applications using the same platform.
Communication between IT and citizen developers is crucial. One of your IT department members should be assigned with the task of supporting your group of citizen developers in their endeavors, in addition to mastering the platform and understanding its capabilities. As an IT professional, they will have the experience and knowledge to guide your team through the basics of the platform, such as where to find and how to use the design tools. They will also be able to manage important aspects of the platform that are unrelated to app development, such as installation and managing access rights. The advantages of professional expertise in these areas means collaboration between your IT department and your citizen developers should be open and frequent, especially at first, so they will be fully prepared to start innovating for your company.
Businesses need automation, and they need it fast. Putting additional strain on already overworked IT departments is a method that does not keep up with the hurried pace of business and doing so overlooks an untapped resource of potential developers within the company. It can seem confusing at first to know how to begin creating and enabling citizen developers within your own company. By first recognizing what potential exists within your employees, implementing the right low-code platform that can encompass the entire company's software needs, and providing professional guidance, businesses can enable employees from any department to become a citizen developer and start creating solutions of their own. With these three tips in mind, your business will be fully prepared to dive headfirst into citizen development and will reap the benefits of their solutions at an unprecedented pace.