Digital culture shift thanks to Citizen Developer

How can you meet the continuing strong increase in demand for software applications? Why do many companies still find it difficult to digitize processes and transform business models? One solution to these problems has long been low-code technology, which can be used to develop applications much faster and more efficiently. However, in order to achieve a true digital culture change in the IT structure, a second step is required: the development of software applications with low-code by so-called Citizen Developers, as John Bratincevic from Forrester Research makes clear in the current report 'Low-Code Citizen Developer Programs'[1].

Citizen Developer are more than just business users

Citizen Developers translate as 'departmental developers' who independently develop software applications for their company or department. However, they do not have any special IT or programming knowledge, but work with the appropriate tools and especially often with low-code platforms. Since they are both end users and experts in their field, they know the individual processes and requirements in their department best. This ensures that exactly the software solution that is needed is developed.

There are a number of benefits to using Citizen Developer: extensive automation, cost savings by replacing or avoiding the need to purchase application packages, and noticeably improved relationships between the business and IT. Most importantly, some companies are reporting a culture shift where digital, continuous improvement and creative innovation are becoming a normal part of the job.

From shadow IT to Citizen Developer

The claim that anyone can be a developer unfortunately doesn't match reality, but it is the right attitude. A Citizen Developer should have a high level of logical thinking skills and want to be problem-solving focused. Technical skills are not a must. Rather, a healthy mix of professional and learned technical skills is purposeful for Citizen Developer work with a willingness to lead projects and drive change.

1. The recruitment of the Citizen Developer

If a company wants to develop its own applications with the help of a tool or a platform, this project will most likely fail if an entire specialist department suddenly has to act as a Citizen Developer. The challenge for management or department heads is rather to find the true problem solver from within the department who works independently and is directly connected to the problem to be solved. This must be addressed from the core, so to speak.

2. The right time management

You don't become a Citizen Developer on the side and certainly not when the actual tasks still need to be done. The corporate culture must be flexible enough to free up capacity for further development. If individual process improvement is not part of the corporate culture and too much is expected of employees, it can be difficult to find the time to learn the necessary skills and develop applications.

3. Get the whole team involved

Dependencies on key people are almost always unfavorable for companies, and this is especially true for in-house application development. So, care must be taken to ensure that when the Citizen Developer leaves the company, succession is provided for cross-training and widespread use of the platform can mitigate this problem. However, it can be a difficult cultural shift for the company to permanently own the technology solutions.

Three models for establishing Citizen Developer

How Citizen Developers are ultimately established varies from company to company. Forrester Research developed three models in its Low-Code Citizen Developer Programs report:





The Privateer: This is an autonomous team of developers that is an integral part of the company. In this model, a small team uses a low-code platform to develop applications that range from small and situational to large and critical. IT reviews or prescribes the team's technology and processes, but the team is largely autonomous. The biggest challenge with this model: over time, a small team reaches its capacity limits.

The Democracy: Each team member can develop, but primarily for smaller use cases. In this model, companies aim for widespread self-service and focus on eliminating spreadsheets and paper forms. An IT center of excellence (COE) provides platform training and support. The challenge is finding staff who have the time and willingness to learn and establish the new technology.

The Federation: A centralized IT center of excellence (COE) supports a structured set of use cases and developers. In this model, a central COE manages the platform and defines multiple development processes for different use cases. Professional developers, local developers and self-service developers all use the same platform. This represents the ideal low-code model, according to Forrester Research, because a wide range of developers collaborate on a variety of use cases.

The number of low-code platform users is growing. To avoid the advancing shadow IT, the Citizen Developer model lends itself very well. Under the leadership of experts, the necessary quality of the software applications can be ensured and the digital transformation in the corporate culture can be driven forward.

[1] Forrester Research, Report Low-Code Citizen Developer Programs - The Proven Benefits, Likely Challenges, And Emerging Governance Structures For Success, John Bratincevic, August 3rd, 2021



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