Low-code development tools allow people with little technical expertise to build powerful mobile apps. As a result, enterprises are witnessing an explosion of mobile apps written outside of IT by “citizen developers”. To adapt, IT departments and software developers must create a framework for citizen developer governance to ensure autonomy while safeguarding data security and app performance.
What is a Citizen Developer?
Gartner estimates that citizen developers will outnumber tech developers by 4-to-1 by the end of 2023.
A citizen developer is a business user without professional coding experience who can create applications for businesses. These business users build apps using low-code and no-code platforms or drag-and-drop solutions. In the best scenarios, this software is sanctioned by corporate IT.
Citizen development initiatives put IT in a quandary. IT teams are tasked with enforcing enterprise technology standards, so the impulse is to squash apps created outside of IT departments. They consider business applications written outside of their control as app development "gone rogue". However, IT organizations that fail to recognize and adapt to the rise of business units creating their own apps, are likely to lose the battle completely.
Embracing Citizen Development and Low-Code Software
In recent years, business users have become savvy in SaaS software solutions, ERP systems, and analytics software. They want to take the next step and bring their daily business tools to the mobile devices they use every day. Rather than fighting against citizen developers in your organization who want to build mobile, IT should embrace them.
Encouraging Citizen Developers within the Organization
Gartner analyst Katherine Lord told CSO magazine, “CIOs need to embrace this because it’s potentially a competitive advantage." She contends, “CIOs need to stop seeing it as a threat and shift control," and encourages CIOs to empower business workers.
In the same article, Gartner analyst Jason Wong agreed but added that IT has a role to play. He explains that enabling business units "shows that organizations are forward-thinking and using mobile to innovate and transform their businesses." However, Wong feels strongly that business units must have guidance: "But IT has to be involved.”
If done correctly, citizen development boosts application development within organizations and allows professional developers to reduce the IT backlog. In order to accomplish this, IT departments need to guide these new developers to use secure software and best practices.
Employing Low-code and No-Code solutions App Builders
Low-code application development platforms and no-code software tools enable people without coding experience to build mobile apps. These solutions have intuitive visual interfaces, pre-built code snippets, form templates, drag-and-drop builders, and built-in connectors to allow more people to create and publish the business apps they need. The most sophisticated tools can handle enterprise requirements, such as role-based security, integration with other software, offline operation, and workflow capability.
Before deciding on a software tool, companies must consider questions like:
- Who is using the product, and what development skill level do they have?
- What types of apps will be needed and what are the features that will be required?
- Will the apps need to work without an Internet connection or will WIFI or cell service always be available?
- Does the app need to integrate with other software, web services, or databases?
- Do you want to host the app in the cloud, or does your organization require on-premise hosting?
After evaluating and selecting the right software, companies can ensure that citizen developers can build apps successfully by employing careful governance of this software and policies around development.
Applying Citizen Developer Governance to App Development Efforts
Citizen developer governance can turn rogue IT projects into secure apps that follow corporate policies.
Budibase does a nice job of defining the idea:
"Citizen development governance is the sum of all of the rules, policies, procedures, and workflows that you put in place to maximize the value you derive from your team’s output."
A framework for citizen development seeks to create guidelines that maximize app development productivity across an organization while mitigating performance and security risks.
IT Departments assemble and promote information on sanctioned software, usability and app performance best practices, app approval procedures, rules for publishing and updating apps, and more into one policy for the organization. A framework for citizen development simplifies these policies, identifies sanctioned app development tools, and communicates them throughout the organization to anyone who may be crafting business apps. The policy seeks to empower new developers while maintaining enterprise app quality and protecting the company from security risks.
Successful Citizen Development Programs
The CSO magazine article points to one CIO who embraced the citizen developer movement and low-code solutions. Isaac Sacolick is the global CIO and managing director at Greenwich Associates, a consulting service for the financial industry.
In the article, Sacolick suggests, "CIOs should consider deploying a low-code mobile app development platform." He then advises IT teams to begin creating standard APIs for backend systems for app creators to use. In this way, IT still retains control over app development, while empowering business units to write apps.
Wong furthers this thought in the article, “IT is going to need to put in place an architecture and set of standards and policies and governance that help facilitate decentralization and democratic mobile app development without being a bottleneck.”
When IT leaders adopt these practices, IT can successfully help employees across the organization build applications. While director of enterprise architecture at Independence Blue Cross Ken Russo took this approach and it worked well. “You build relationships and the organization builds confidence in you," Russo explains. "After four years of doing this, we’ve got a really good reputation...they know to come to us.”
Embracing the Future of Enterprise App Development
Many analysts, consultants, and innovative CIOs feel companies should not discourage mobile app development in business units. If they attempt to shut down projects, they'll likely encourage shadow IT efforts that buck corporate policies and pose security risks. IT leaders should clearly understand the pros and cons of citizen development. They should consider these factors as they guide the business units on how to develop apps properly and securely.
Citizen development is the future of mobile app development and CIOs must adjust to the trend. They should establish policies for citizen development governance. This will help ensure corporate app requirements are maintained without slowing down digital transformation.
Simultaneously, IT departments should evaluate and approve low-code or no-code software for business users. That way, employees are using solutions that meet performance expectations and include built-in security.