Skip to content

The Citizen Developer and the Democratization of Automation

Maria Homann

Maria Homann

One of the most noteworthy trends on Gartner’s list of strategic technology trends for 2020 is citizen development.

It’s a trend worthy of discussion because it’s received quite a lot of negative attention, and at this point, not every organization is ready to hop on board the bandwagon.

In order to understand why, let’s first take a closer look at what a citizen developer is.

What is a citizen developer?

Gartner defines a citizen developer as “a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.”

A citizen developer is thus not a professional developer who gets paid to develop apps or systems, but an amateur in the sense that developing is not their primary function. The citizen developer could be the sales manager, the business leader or the software tester.

With the help of low-code or no-code tools, these ‘non-developers’ become equipped to develop apps and systems that in one way or another support their daily work and the business’ overall goals.

The citizen development movement has emerged from a broader trend of democratization that Gartner talks about in their list of strategic technology trends for 2020. This democratization trend is about providing people with access to technical or business domain expertise via “a radically simplified experience and without requiring extensive and costly training.”

Asset 74

What are the pros and cons of citizen development?

There are mixed opinions on whether citizen development is a positive or negative trend.

Benefits of citizen development are often described as:

  • Costs can be lowered as fewer expensive developers need to be employed.
  • More people can contribute to the enterprise’s digital transformation.
  • Low-code/no-code tools foster greater collaboration due to the agile nature of these tools.
  • Due to low-code/no-code tools’ visual language, apps can be developed at a faster pace.

Criticism of citizen development is most frequently based on two perceived threats:

  • A perceived threat for the enterprise in letting employees create or change IT systems to fit their own personal needs, which could become a threat to the business’ overall IT health.
  • A perceived threat for the employed developer that citizen developers will replace them.

Let’s have a closer look at these perceived threats one by one to better understand if there is cause for these fears, and to get a better sense of what the real benefits are.

Should enterprises feel threatened by citizen developers?

One of the biggest perceived threats in relation to the citizen developer trend is that it can result in so-called ‘shadow-IT’. Shadow IT is IT that is developed without the knowledge of the IT department and which therefore potentially becomes a threat to the health and integrity of the business’ IT systems.

Examples of shadow IT include using applications not approved by IT and storing data on personal Dropbox accounts.

But citizen development is, as opposed to shadow IT, sanctioned or governed by the IT department. By this definition, IT departments have no cause for concern.

In practice, however, there is only a fine line between these two tendencies, and without a proper focus and understanding, citizen development can in fact turn into shadow IT.

For this reason, IT departments should invest in empowering and educating citizen developers, rather than seeing them as a security threat. According to Gartner, citizen development is happening here and now, regardless of enterprise willingness and readiness, and so enterprises need to find a way to ensure that this development takes place in a way that supports the health of the business.

A survey by FileMaker supports this claim: Only 12 percent of citizen developers had been asked by their boss to self-develop.

“Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons. The key is that enterprises take action to educate their staff and potential citizen developers in the benefits and capabilities of low-code/no-code applications.” - Forbes

On a more positive note, the survey concluded that citizen developers are proactive problem solvers: 83 percent wanted to create a better way to work and 48 percent saw an increase in satisfaction at work. As a result of citizen development, 82 percent of users saw a reduction in inefficient tasks. Furthermore, 46 percent of these optimized tasks were up and running in less than four weeks.

Rather than posing a threat to organizations, citizen developers are thereby helping reduce bottlenecks, close development gaps, increase agility and innovate more rapidly. And they’re doing so a their own free will.

Thanks to citizen development, it is now possible for every employee with an itch for developing their own smart systems to do so while ‘coloring within the lines’ of the IT department’s rules and restrictions.

“By 2024, 75% of large enterprises will be using at least four low-code development tools for both IT application development and citizen development initiatives.” - Gartner

Overall then, there is much to gain from viewing citizen development as an opportunity rather than a threat, and instead leveraging this movement to the enterprise’s strategic benefit.

Will citizen developers replace real developers?

The second perceived threat in relation to the citizen developer trend is that citizen developers will replace real developers. This fear is, however, without cause.

In today’s increasingly digital world, the need for developers is greater than ever, and will continue to grow. The citizen developer trend is only emerging as the pie for digital transformation becomes bigger.

Citizen development is really just an opportunity for businesses and employees alike to develop and grow at greater speed while remaining agile.

You could compare the citizen development movement to writing: Once literacy was limited to a slim group of elites, but as the need for literacy grew, more and more people became able to read and write. This planted a seed for information, communication and innovation, and enabled the informed societies which we see today. In the same way, citizen development will enable great ideas to come to life and spread throughout organizations, instead of being strangled by simple inability.

With citizen development and the tools that enable it we can look forward to a richer existence where ideas can come to life, and people, as well as organizations, can become more productive.

A no-code tool for the citizen developer

Since one of the primary motivations for citizen development is to reduce inefficient tasks, test automation is an obvious candidate for citizen development.

Allowing employees to build automation flows can reduce repetitive, tedious tasks, and give them more time to work on tasks that require their critical thinking and human approach.

With a no-code automation platform, any employee can set up their own automation platform, and they don't have to depend on developers to write automation script for them.

“Low-code platforms do assume a certain degree of technical knowledge, whereas the more cutting-edge no-code platforms require less technical knowledge and skill.” - Forbes

Learn more about no-code automation and how you can leverage it in 2020 in our whitepaper.

New call-to-action