March 7, 2016

4 catalysts for a citizen developer revolution

How can IT fuel the grassroots movement for citizen development and pave the way for frictionless enterprise application delivery?

Citizen development efforts are poised to grow rapidly in the next few years, led by the increasing adoption of cloud-based platforms, which simplify access to corporate data. Enterprises across the board are keen to embrace citizen developer tools not only to amass productivity gains but also because business users are tired of waiting for IT to deliver the applications they need at the speed of business. Let us look at how you can create the right conditions and catalysts for a citizen developer revolution at your enterprise.

Who is a citizen developer?

According to Gartner, “a citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. In the past, end-user application development has typically been limited to single-user or workgroup solutions built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. However, today, end users can build departmental, enterprise and even public applications using shared services, fourth-generation language (4GL)-style development platforms and cloud computing services.”

Preconditions for citizen development

The above definition also contains two preconditions that are necessary for citizen development:

  • IT-sanctioned environment: Creating applications using tools that are not sanctioned by IT is “shadow IT” at best, not citizen development. Citizen development yields the best results when it is done in partnership with the IT department. In fact, enterprises should take a step further and choose a platform that relies on open systems and technologies to avoid vendor lock-in.
  • Low-code development platform: Businesses are frustrated with having to wait for months in the IT queue and then getting something that was not what they asked for. They are looking for platforms that reduce cycle times and improve organizational agility by delivering applications at the pace of business. Enterprises should use low-code tools that use a rapid application development model, which supports visual (drag-and-drop) development and incorporates user feedback iteratively using rapid prototyping.

Catalysts that foster citizen development

Aside from the necessary preconditions, enterprise IT needs to take the leadership role by doing the following to foster a grassroots citizen development movement that benefits both business and IT:

  • Set legacy data free: In most enterprises, decades of delivering enterprise IT apps using proprietary software have locked not only IT dollars but also a substantial amount of enterprise data. In order to democratize application development, the data residing in legacy systems need to be set free. If you are still using legacy systems (and you’re not alone), immediately set in motion a plan to modernize legacy applications built on proprietary software such as Lotus Notes, Oracle Forms, and Microsoft Access.
  • Jumpstart application design: Custom applications built using no/low-code tools tend to stand out for their primordial UI and non-conformant design. Make sure you choose low-code tools that support out-of-the-box themes and templates for dashboards, login, and more. Templates not only reduce the time to design the app but also provide standardization across enterprise apps. It would be even better if IT can create a standard theme that can be readily applied to an application created by business users.
  • Enable last-mile development: To really bridge the business-IT gap, business users should be empowered to deliver even sophisticated applications. But limited coding skills for customization hold them back. Hence, commonly used code for integration, APIs, compliance, or security should be readily available and reusable across applications. For instance, WaveMaker RAD Platform provides Prefabs, reusable micro apps that abstract underlying complexity, so that business users can simply mash up an app using these reusable, independent, and tested micro-apps.
  • Strike the governance balance: While the benefits of citizen development are indisputable, the risks of serious security or compliance problems should not be discounted. Finding the right balance between productivity and control is vital for citizen development to succeed. IT leaders should unite application developers and business users so they can work together to efficiently optimize both the applications and the processes. For instance, IT should closely evaluate and choose a low-code tool that offers highly configurable governance capabilities such as role-based access controls. Ultimately, citizen developers should be able to create secure, compliant applications while offering IT the transparency of maintaining control.