Citizen Developer

Citizen Developer

There is hardly any other area where the shortage of skilled workers is as noticeable as in IT. Well-trained staff are rare, but the demand is huge. On the one hand, this can lead to an overworked IT department, on the other to delays in implementing new developments. Perhaps even both.  

However, current technical developments are making it possible more and more for unskilled people to participate in the development of applications or to do it completely independently.  

The keyword here is no code and low code. This trend encompasses all applications that want to make it as easy as possible for users to build individual software solutions - without any programming knowledge at all - in other words, no code.  

People who use No Code and Low Code in the company, but without being part of the IT department, are called Citizen Developers. They use the latest applications to develop software solutions that reflect the needs of the organization. Citizen developers can thus make a significant contribution to relieving the IT and innovation burden of the company. We explain everything about the term, advantages and disadvantages and possible applications.

What Is a Citizen Developer?

The term Citizen Developer can literally be translated as "citizen developer", but means much more an unskilled or non-specialist developer. So-called citizen developers indirectly support the IT department, but are part of another corporate department. The citizen developer is a persona, not a title or role.

Citizen Developers are characterized by very good technical knowledge and have often been involved with technical solutions outside of their work. However, they do not have a relevant IT degree or professional experience in this field.  

For this purpose, a graphical user interface is often used, which allows apps, websites and much more to be created through simple operation. They often follow the modular principle. The programming is done in the background.  

Citizen developers are crucial for the digital transformation and innovation of companies, as they can support and thus relieve the IT department. Especially departmental applications and specific software solutions can benefit from citizen developers. Development time is shortened and the department's processes and goals are understood.   

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A Citizen Developer Supports The IT Department

The IT department is already frequently affected by the shortage of skilled workers. A long backlog of orders is not uncommon. And new solutions are requested on a daily basis. Especially when a very specific solution is needed for specialist internal problems, Citizen Developers who come from the relevant department can provide great support.

Thus, there is a strong focus on subject-specific problems and the benefits of the application.  

In addition, this partial outsourcing can increase the productivity of the IT and required solutions can be implemented more quickly. The IT department is there to help the Citizen Developers.  

Citizen Developer & IT Compliance: A Dilemma?

Perhaps it has already crossed your mind, the thought "this can never comply with the applicable compliance regulations". This is precisely the objection that can often be used against the use of Citizen Developers. But there doesn't have to be a dilemma between Citizen Developer & IT compliance.  

Rather, the involvement and support of the IT department is required. Good education and training as well as suitable frameworks for roles and rights help to establish citizen developers.

The connection of Citizen Developers to IT ensures direct support.

Of course, citizen developers must also be informed about the applicable regulations, documentation and standards. Compliance with these can be checked in projects by IT. In the medium term, training and joint, agile working can even help to integrate citizen developers into the IT department.

The audit of used application for support can additionally be carried out by a compliance officer.  

The development environment is therefore provided by the IT department, and citizen developers can realize suitable solutions for their department within this environment. This also avoids shadow IT.  

Advantages of Using Citizen Developers

  • Reduced burden on the IT department

IT teams face increasing challenges as the number of applications grows and the need to keep current applications up to date increases. Citizen developer platforms relieve IT teams of the burden of program development and allow them to focus on other tasks. An IT department that is not overwhelmed with requests can also keep an eye on the risks and benefits of Citizen Developers, such as the integrations and permissions an app needs to succeed.

  • Cost-effective

Citizen Development enables a larger pool of employees to work together on software development. In this way, the need for IT specialists can be reduced selectively. In addition, the technical understanding of the team members is promoted.  

  • Increased productivity and efficiency

Development with low code and no code applications is significantly faster than custom developments. This also means that necessary changes can be implemented quickly when requirements change. In addition, the IT department can hand over tasks and thus concentrate on the most important and urgent tasks.  

  • Flexible adjustments without IT department
  • Rapid development and testing
  • Further development and motivation of staff

Disadvantages of Using Citizen Developers

  • Constantly changing technology  

Currently, a lot is changing in the area of low code and no code applications. These constant updates of applications and programs require consistent training and retraining. Thus, assistance is needed so that citizen developers may eventually become software developers.  

  • Quality assurance  

If the IT department is not involved in the process, the requirements for quality, security, documentation and compliance can deviate. That is why throughout the process, the involvement of IT professionals is an important factor in ensuring the quality and functionality of an application.  

  • Training needed
  • Governance challenges require guidelines
Citizen Developer Vorteile Nachteile

Examples of The Successful Use of Citizen Development - Thanks to Low-Code Applications

Airtable for a User-Friendly Database

Databases can be both a curse and a blessing: often equipped with a wide range of functions, this can quickly lead to confusion. It is not uncommon for databases to be touched only by a few team members. Yet the information and data are often decisive for internal and cross-departmental processes.  

For example, the master data of customers is important in many places: marketing, accounting, sales, administration and many more. Citizen developers can be particularly useful for databases. They often know exactly what data is needed, who needs access and where changes are necessary.

One application that supports this is Airtable. Airtable allows for large, complex and yet clearly structured databases. Airtable is easy to use and comes with very useful functions: forms or different views such as calendar, Gantt or Kanban views allow more overview and control.  

For example, team members can enter new records via a special form without the risk of changing existing data. These can be viewed via personalized views, so that the relevant info is accessible to everyone.

Airtable does not require any programming at all. Perfect for the use of Citizen Developers.  

Softr for a Member Login  

Databases can be both a curse and a blessing: The possibilities for data entry, dependencies and calculations are almost endless. However, the operation and interface are often anything but intuitive. In addition, not everyone is supposed to see all the data, but only the data assigned to them.  

A frontend can visualize and make available the existing data with a member login. One application that does just that is Softr. Softr is based on Airtable as a database and offers the possibility to create web pages and member areas through a simple drag-and-drop interface.

In this way, tables or databases with sensitive data can be made securely accessible. Different groups ensure that each person only sees what they are supposed to see. This makes it possible to distinguish between, for example, an admin, manager or user view.

Specific data entry into the database can also be done via secure forms. This way, data can be added flexibly, but no existing information can be changed or deleted.  

Glide App for Employees Feedback

Feedback for one's own team and managers is often still a very rigid process: after fixed intervals, such as annually or semi-annually, a comprehensive catalogue of questions is worked through, discussions are held and development opportunities are pointed out. The realisation that feedback is better given at shorter intervals is not a new one.  

In addition, the idea of 360° feedback is also gaining popularity. However, the hurdles can sometimes be big:

If different people are to give feedback, it can be a lengthy process. So it is important to keep the barriers as low as possible. This is where an app can help. One app that can help is GlideApps. It creates mobile apps based on GoogleSheets. In this way, the familiar functions of GoogleSheets can be used in the background, but the end users only see the data that is relevant to them on their smartphones.

Similar to Softr, a login is also possible for this. Standardized feedback can be given to people via forms and the evaluation of one's own feedback can be viewed. By using the smartphone, feedback can also be given quickly and easily.  

Of course, this app does not replace personal interviews, but it can support the preparation. For example, a self-assessment can be compared with the feedback from the peer group and specifics can be addressed in the subsequent interview with the HR department.

The development of this app can be done by Citizen Developers from the HR department.

ActiveCampaign for Automatic Email Newsletters in Marketing

One example that has long since become the norm is automatic email newsletters in marketing. Especially in marketing, no code and low code have long been established. With the rise of email marketing, the need for easy-to-use software has also increased.  

ActiveCampaign, for example, can be used to design and automate entire e-mail campaigns. Instead of coding emails in HTML, a visual builder is used here as well, which enables emails in the corporate design via drag and drop.

Conditions and standardized triggers also ensure that the right people receive emails at the right time. New customers can receive different mailings than interested visitors or long-term customers. Citizen developers in marketing can thus create campaigns quickly and flexibly.  

Make for Automated Processes in Distribution

Another area that can benefit significantly from Citizen Developers and is just starting to gain momentum is process automation. Digital processes should run independently, within departments, but also across departments. Two things are necessary for this:  

  • Comprehensive knowledge of the processes
  • Cloud-based applications that have an interface

If both are given, automation platforms can help to automate the processes. One of these platforms is Make. Especially for sales, administrative and support work can be automated in order to spend more time for and with customers.  

An exemplary process that does not require any programming can look something like this:

  • A customer contacts the company via a contact form on the website.
  • The enquiry and the relevant master data are automatically recorded in the CRM system.  
  • The request is assigned to the responsible or available team member and they are informed via Teams or Slack.  
  • This can answer the enquiry directly or arrange a telephone appointment.  
  • The entire further customer journey is automatically updated via a status in the CRM and from the time of the enquiry, the customer goes through a sequence of emails that always inform her about the next steps.

So instead of searching for data, entering it manually or sending the same emails over and over again, the sales team can focus on the request itself and provide the customer with a timely and personalized experience. Such developments lend themselves particularly well to Citizen Developers, as sales processes are best understood and defined by internal people.  

By the way, you can try out Make free of charge directly here

Citizen Developers Need Frameworks

In summary, Citizen Developers can bring the following benefits:

  • Support for the software developers
  • No specific IT or programming knowledge necessary
  • Control, documentation, security and reliability requirements met through IT support
  • IT department supported by standardized environment
  • Further development and motivation of the Citizen Developers
  • Helpful to mitigate the IT skills shortage
  • Strong focus on subject-specific problems and benefits of the applications
  • Increased IT productivity
  • Faster implementation of ideas and solutions

Citizen development is predicted to grow in importance. Gartner recently predicted that by 2023 the number of citizen developers will be at least four times as large as the number of professional developers. However, this presupposes that this form of development is promoted and supported.

Used correctly, Citizen Developers can support IT, realize fast and specific solutions and even increase their own motivation and problem-solving skills. This requires help and support from the IT department to ensure that the highest standards of development and security are maintained.

In this way, Citizen Development, also thanks to the growing range of No Code and Low Code solutions, can help to increase innovation and productivity throughout the organization.  

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