Detachment Between IT and the Business: How Citizen Development Can Help

In our digital age, people can order lunch from their phones and have it delivered in 30 minutes. Citizen development makes work as easy as ordering food from a food app. Citizen developers are non-IT employees who use technology to make their work easy and more efficient. They are business users with little to no coding experience who build applications using IT-approved technology. Citizen developers use cloud-based, low-code or no-code platforms to create solutions using intuitive interfaces instead of strings of code.

For many years, business users have been automating processes with electronic forms, spreadsheets, and macros. Many times, they successfully relieved their IT colleagues’ workloads. But at times, they created problems instead of solutions. New software makes it easy for citizen developers to streamline work for everyone–and to do so safely.

And while the concept of non-IT employees creating their own solutions isn’t new, most organizations are now realizing the positive impact of empowering citizen developers with powerful tools. According to a Gartner report, 61% of organizations have active citizen development initiatives or plan to have them. Citizen development bridges the gap between business users and IT staff.

The Motivation Behind the Citizen Development Movement

Citizen development was birthed when business analysts realized that too much responsibility was being placed on professional developers. Developers would spend a lot of time creating applications and troubleshooting existing applications, which meant they always had a backlog of requests from different departments.

Due to this, projects would sit around for months. IT firms started developing Low-Code No-Code platforms, enabling employees without professional development experience to create applications for fellow employees and customers.

Research has found that 71% of business leaders agree that IT teams have a huge backlog of new IT solution requests they aren’t working on. They also have to ensure the company’s operations run smoothly from a technology standpoint and are under a lot of pressure to modernize the current IT infrastructure to advance their organization’s digital agenda.

Citizen developers are more well-versed in their specialty than professional developers, so the apps and solutions they create are more likely to reflect the needs of users. To meet the needs of an ever-changing marketplace, some organizations now use citizen development platforms to enhance business processes and interactions between them and their customers.

Where Can Citizen Development Make an Impact?

  • Mobile applications: 89.84% of the world’s population owns mobile phones. Citizen development allows business users to create mobile applications without needing to know how to code.
  • Business applications: By developing administrative and reporting apps, citizen developers can have a big impact on enterprise organizations. They can create many enterprise solutions and automate their workflows easily.
  • Chatbots: Chatbots enhance customer relationship management. By using citizen development platforms, non-IT employees can make AI chatbots that offer customers the best experience possible and nurture leads.
  • Integrations: Citizen developers can seamlessly connect the cloud-based applications they use, ensuring data is shared and integrated easily. In every organization, data is important, but sharing it is sometimes hard because of its sheer volume. Citizen development tools can help employees share large amounts of data easily.

How to Enable Your Team to Empower Citizen Developers

Encourage Them to Offer Training and Mentoring

Citizen developers are tech-savvy and motivated individuals, however, they need support and training to improve their skill sets. With encouragement, their confidence will grow and they will look for new technologies to learn. Forward-thinking IT departments mentor citizen developers and offer training programs.


Citizen developers should be provided with governance models that include application lifecycle management. The models encourage repeated improvements to the applications and also allow organizations to focus on areas that will see the most benefit.

Continued Support

IT Managers and CIOs should regularly inform their organizations about the initiatives delivered by citizen developers. When citizen developers are recognized for their efforts, a company fosters a workplace culture that supports their professional growth. This makes them want to develop more tools that enhance business operations.

A Case Study of Wärtsilä, a Company That Benefited from Citizen Development:

Wärtsilä, a large Finnish marine engineering company, successfully implemented Robotic Process Automation with citizen developers. To scale its process automation, it engaged as many employees as possible. It introduced staff to the citizen development concept instead of imposing it on them. By doing this, it helped over 100 employees become actively involved in developing automations.

Once business users became involved and started helping with process automation development, they were encouraged to bring their ideas to the table. The company also implemented training to help citizen developers further understand the benefits of RPA. As a result, the company greatly benefited from RPA. Today, it uses more than 400 automated processes formulated by its citizen developers.

It’s clear from Wärtsilä’s experience that this approach works and is essential for organizations grappling with rapid change and adoption of new technologies.

The Future of Citizen Development

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that businesses must be agile if they are to succeed. Remote working and the changes brought about by COVID-19 have caused incredible digital acceleration in just about every sector.

In response to a more agile, faster, and digitally-oriented business environment, companies must democratize access to technology, allowing more employees to help co-create technology assets. The valuable skills professionals have acquired and perfected over the years can be supported to foster a culture of innovation.

Using no-code and low-code platforms, employees with no IT background can become co-creators of software solutions. According to Gartner, by 2023, citizen developers in large enterprises will outnumber professional developers. Forrester also found that low-code no-code platforms allow citizen developers to create cloud-native applications more than 10-times faster and with fewer resources. Citizen development ensures organizations are prepared and can cope with the difficulties the future might hold.

Summing Up

Industry research projects that by 2024, there will be a deficit of 500,000 developers in the U.S. Rising IT backlogs and the shortage of skilled developers have brought about the need for citizen development. Most employees today can use and apply different technologies, and this bodes well for introducing additional innovative tools. Citizen development is beneficial to companies as employees can create the digital solutions they need, increasing productivity and making business processes more efficient.

By Dinesh Varadharajan