Some call it a hype, some call it rubbish, many fear its’ disruptive nature in organizations: Citizen Development. The term has been around for over 15 years, though only in recent years it has become a more wide spread topic. Citizen Development is rapidly gaining ground, mostly thanks to the emerging platforms that support it.
So, what is it, really? Is it a hype? Can we dismiss it as being nonsense? Is it a threat to organizations, or a blessing?
Let’s start with defining what Citizen Development really is. According to Gartner, a Citizen Developer can be defined as:
a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.
So basically it refers to a non-developer with a business background developing applications for the organization, not through IT, but sanctioned by IT. One can’t help by associating this with terms like “Shadow-IT”, “Rogue-IT” or “Problem-IT”. The difference of course is the phrase “sanctioned by IT”. Where Shadow-IT as a rule happens beyond the sight of the IT governing professionals, Citizen Development instead aims to actively involve IT into the process as a guardian or gatekeeper and facilitator, but without hampering business initiatives.
Citizen Development is part of the wider trend of technology democratization, which scores high on the Gartner Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends 2020.
The justified question is why this is a good thing and organizations should embrace it. Well, for starters it is pure necessity. The demand for IT solutions is still growing, but supply is coming to a grinding halt. There is simply not enough development capacity available, let alone affordable, to deliver on all requests from business departments. Enabling business professionals to create their own solutions using sanctioned tooling suddenly opens up a whole new and much larger pool of development capability.
Secondly today’s global marketplace continues to challenge organizations to re-invent themselves and their business. As mentioned above traditional IT is not able to keep up with this innovative pace that organizations need to be succesful. Their process is organized differently and, let’s be honest here, most IT departments need most of their time to keep the shop open. Business users, as masters in their own trade, can, when using the right tooling, build solutions faster, better and at lower cost. Research indicates that low-code Citizen Development projects, when governed properly, can be delivered at 8 to 10 times faster at equally low or even lower cost and with a better result.
And finally, though there are more arguments that can be considered, Citizen Development helps to master Shadow-IT. Instead of fighting obscure home-made spreadsheets and databases that emerge in shady corners of the organization, being vigorously kept out of sight of the IT watchdogs, Citizen Development creates a culture of cooperation, where business and technology meet in using professional platforms that are used for what they were designed for: enabling businesses to be successful. And do it fast and at lower cost. Where the Citizen Developer can focus on creating stunning solutions in a fast pace, IT can facilitate the right platforms and components and oversee the application landscape and make sure proper governance is being applied.
There are risks too, to be sure. Without the right level of cooperation between IT and Citizen Developers, Citizen Development can easily become, as someone in my network recently put it, “Shadow-IT on steroids”. When this happens, a nightmare scenario will start to unfold that is beyond control and that can actually threaten the very existence of the organization if not dealt with swiftly and vigorously.
The implementation of Citizen Development must therefore be approached as a digital transformation with impact throughout the whole of the organization. It will affect governance practises, organisation structure, processes and definitely company culture.
Citizen Development can’t be ignored or dismissed. Being part of the trend of increased technology democratization it is not a hype, it is changing the game and it will stay. Organizations today wish to embrace it to increase their success, while others will need it in order to survive. Whatever the reason, when done right, the organization will gain great profit from its’ advantages.
However, Citizen Development is not a goal in itself, but a means to an end. It requires an organization to strategically and consciously choose to implement it, as much as an organization may choose to do an Agile transformation. And as with Agile transformations, it doesn’t happen overnight and it can’t be done halfheartedly.