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Citizen Development: These are the opportunities and risks

Software development without skilled or studied programmers - is that possible? Oh yes! Train your employees to become so-called Citizen Developers. Here's what you need to keep in mind.

What are Citizen Developers?

"Citizen Developer" means that theoretically anyone without special programming skills can develop their own software applications. To make this possible, low-code tools like Intrexx or RPA tools like Citrobot are used.

Ideally, Citizen Developers first capture and redefine existing processes with their teams. Then they implement the desired applications primarily via graphical user interfaces. These can be business applications that, for example, aggregate data from various sources or digitize and automate processes.

This means that thanks to low-code platforms, it is possible for non-experts or non-programmers to develop web applications and smartphone apps. To do so, they have to write little to no lines of program code, which greatly simplifies the realization of a software project.

These are the advantages of Citizen Developer

  • Thanks to low-code solutions, every craftsman and every marketing manager can theoretically become a Citizen Developer. In other words, your company can use "normal" employees as developers.
  • Your company does not need to hire programmers or contract external developers to develop (simple) business applications. In times of a shortage of skilled workers, this is a big plus.
  • Often, Citizen Developer and IT work hand in hand. While the business department implements the user interface (e.g., forms), IT employees develop the necessary interfaces to existing systems.
  • If employees have great ideas for new applications, they can quickly implement prototypes or MVPs themselves as Citizen Developers.
  • Engaging with low-code tools challenges and encourages employee engagement. It allows them to think outside the box, which increases job satisfaction.
  • In addition, Citizen Development creates entirely new, digital competencies in your company. Competencies that are extremely important in times of digital transformation.

What are the disadvantages of Citizen Development?

  • Many low-code platforms are easy to learn, but hard to master. Thus, every Citizen Developer first needs training and a certain period of familiarization.
  • Those who have no idea about software development may approach the design and implementation of applications in the wrong way. This increases the development time and the probability that the result will not be as desired.
  • All low-code solutions have certain limitations. Citizen developers, even with very good skills, can only operate within a certain framework. This means that some ideas cannot be realized with the tools.

Security vulnerabilities are a big danger!

The use of Citizen Developers may create a "shadow IT" in your company. This is because the non-programmers who develop new applications with low code often work independently of the actual IT or development department. On the one hand, this is a good thing, because it allows the creative lay developers to pursue their ideas quickly and without any major conventions.

On the other hand, it results in (unnecessary) parallel systems and applications that are not checked by the IT department's IT security measures. That is why Forresterr assumes that the first major security breaches could be caused by Citizen Development in 2023.

How to minimize the risks

Be aware of the disadvantages and actively steer against them. For example, like this:

Find competencies

Every employee can become a software developer thanks to low-code platforms - this promise sounds great. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite correspond to reality. Not everyone has the interest and skills to become a citizen developer. That's why it's important to find employees who really fit your plans.

Create free space

Time is also an important factor: Everyone who is to work as a Citizen Developer must familiarize themselves with the tools and learn how to use them properly. If prospects don't get enough freedom, they will produce unsatisfactory results or none at all.

Pay attention to quality

Think about quality in low-code development, too. Applications that are difficult to use or run out of round will cause frustration and slow down the digitization of processes.

IT security is a "must have"

Results with security gaps are an absolute no-go! Always involve your IT department when introducing low-code tools. The IT department must ensure that the Citizen Developers work in accordance with compliance and data protection requirements. It is also advisable to establish control processes.

Smooth entry thanks to BOT

Implementing Citizen Development can be quite time-consuming. If you would like to have a "smooth" entry, you can think about the BOT model (Build-Operate-Transfer). Here, an external service provider develops your desired product and your team successively takes over the operation and improvements.

Another solution: outsource low code development

If you cannot establish Citizen Development in your company, you should not shelve the topic. You still have the option of outsourcing development - for example, to service providers such as CITRO.

We realize customized solutions for you with low-code platforms. The advantage of this is that we can achieve our goal quickly and cost-effectively. Would you like to know more? Contact us without any obligation.

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