Data integration, application development, business process management, database analyses… the to-do list once reserved for in-house and third-party developers with their lines of Java, Python or C++ is long. Now no-code is taking centre stage. No longer the new kid on the block, no-code gives non-IT-trained employees the tools to take the development of process-centric applications into their own hands, becoming citizen developers. Certainly no fleeting fad, no-code should not be overlooked – particularly in light of the acute shortage of IT specialists at home and abroad1.
WHAT IS A CITIZEN DEVELOPER?
Articles dedicated to digital transformation and no-code software have been heralding citizen developers or citizen development for some time. But when used in an IT context, readers might initially stumble over the term, as the word citizen itself brings to mind a resident or native of a country, as with citizenship. If you cast your net wider, you may even come across the phrase Citizen Joe, i.e. a hypothetical average or generic citizen. And with that, you’re already at the core of the message behind citizen development. In contrast to highly specialised IT developers, anyone can become a citizen developer – provided they have a certain affinity and desire to help shape IT solutions.
Coming back to our average citizen: citizen development thus provides equal access to software development and digitalisation through user-friendly no-code software. The term “empowerment” is also frequently used in this context and underlines the almost revolutionary significance of no-code in an IT setting. While software development and coding have long been accessible only to a small circle of specialists, no-code now gives a growing number of knowledge workers the tools to drive digital transformation. The IT bottleneck is widening.
THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN NO-CODE AND CITIZEN DEVELOPERS.
Citizen development would not be possible without no-code software. This is because no-code solutions act as standardised development environments – no programming knowledge necessary. Instead of filling pages with lines of code, which need to be checked, trimmed for performance and added to the source code, no-code users have access to preconfigured building blocks and functions within a user-friendly, intuitive interface. Depending on the task at hand, citizen developers can navigate these graphical interfaces with just a few mouse clicks and some drag-and-drop for good measure.
In doing so, they might connect interface nodes or move form elements onto a portal page, for example. Not only does this make light work of previously arduous tasks, it is usually error-free thanks to the ready-made function blocks whilst also freeing up in-house IT capacity.
In the world of business, this means citizen developers are essentially knowledge workers with an understanding of no-code-based IT. These skills are usually acquired by participating in a short training course and can then be used to create applications for business processes. Rather than running to the IT department or an IT service provider with specifications and orders, citizen developers take control and configure applications themselves based on the requirements of their area of business expertise. This can entail digitalising previously manual or paper-based processes or automating recurring activities within business processes, for example.
NO-CODE SIDESTEPS SHADOW IT.
IT-savvy employees developing in-house business solutions to the best of their ability are no novelty in business. On the one hand, what is known as shadow IT is the by-product of long wait times for solutions from overworked development departments. Not to mention that repeatedly hiring IT service providers is expensive and time-consuming. And the lack of autonomy only adds insult to injury! On the other hand, it also goes without saying that business departments are closer to the action, giving them a better idea of what is actually needed.
Even the most experienced IT professional first needs to understand the requirements before creating a software that must then be trialled and approved. This sadly all-too-common approach is not the most efficient use of resources. Experience shows that ‘home-grown’ shadow IT applications can be problematic in their own right. Flying below the radar of IT teams, they become black-box problems once their creators have moved on. This causes a huge headache when meeting current transparency and security requirements. A nightmare for administrators!
Training citizen developers and using no-code software eliminates the risk of shadow IT forming, ensuring valuable efforts to take the initiative and drive business forward remain above board and functional. No-code software is tested, traceable and can be rolled out business-wide. Departmental experts wanting to advance corporate digitalisation can now turn to standardised development environments that meet their company’s performance and security requirements. Instead of shadow IT propagating behind closed doors, citizen development plays a crucial part in securing transparent cross-departmental IT strategies.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF CITIZEN DEVELOPEMENT?
The advantages of using citizen developers and no-code software are manifold:
- Company-wide creation of process-specific applications as a pragmatic solution to IT skills shortage
- Significant cost reduction by harnessing in-house IT expertise and avoiding third-party fees
- 360° integration of all departments within official IT strategy to prevent parallel, compromised IT structures (shadow IT)
- Increased responsiveness to sudden changes triggered in-house, by suppliers or the market, thus securing turnover and reputation as a reliable business partner
- Flexible scalability of no-code solutions either thanks to citizen developers from business departments or professional IT developers for company-specific further development
In summary, business-driven IT goes hand in hand with citizen development, allowing everyone to reap the rewards of a welcoming IT environment – where everyone can get involved! The synergy between citizen development and professional programming gives companies the best of both worlds, driving digital transformation.
1 See: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/beyond-hiring-how-companies-are-reskilling-to-address-talent-gaps