Embrace the Rising Trend of Citizen Developers

I know from my days working in the IT trenches that there are always a few users–users who do not actually work in IT–who know just enough about technology to be dangerous. When users want (or need) something and IT is too slow to deliver, these users will take it upon themselves to craft their own rogue solutions. Fighting against it results in shadow IT. The better option is to figure out how to harness the power of these citizen developers and cooperate for the common good.

Back in 2012, Gartner analysts declared, “We’re all developers now”—a reference to the nascent citizen developer movement. Fast forward three years, and citizen development is, in fact, a strong and growing trend.

What is a “citizen developer”? Gartner says it is “a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others, using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.” In the past, these have included tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. But 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.”

While there are some concerns regarding compliance mandates and other institutional controls that citizen developers are not usually equipped to address, citizen developers represent a creative force that should be understood and leveraged by forward-looking organizations. This article explains the movement and suggests ways to make good use of that creative drive.

Drive and motivation: The fuel for citizen developers

The QuickBase 2015 State of Citizen Development Report describes it like this:

Citizen Developers are empowered problem-solvers from the various lines of business who have the drive and determination to engage in app development even though they lack traditional coding skills.”

In other words, a citizen developer is someone who is not a developer by trade. Anyone—from a manager in the finance department, to a salesperson, to a business analyst—who takes the initiative to develop his or her own applications using development software and platforms sanctioned by the IT department qualifies as a citizen developer.

Various teams within a traditional business organization often view IT as a hurdle or speed bump that hinders their forward progress. People just want to get their work done as simply as possible. IT generally mandates the tools that will be used and implements policies designed to make sure employees stick to using the chosen applications and platforms.

Just getting it done

The people working in the trenches have ideas, though. They identify challenges that get in the way of productivity and find solutions to help them be more efficient. Employees who are frustrated, but still want to play by the IT rules, will request a function or capability from IT. They identify issues and submit a request to IT to build the features to address those issues. However, in most companies, IT is perpetually understaffed and overworked, and there is only so much it can do with the limited resources available. As a result, many of those requests are typically pushed to the back burner.

Resourceful users will wait only so long. The drive to go rogue and violate IT policies in order to get things done frequently results in shadow IT—employees setting up their own servers or virtual servers, using applications that are not approved, or storing data on a personal Dropbox account. To the users, and often to the business itself, the end justifies the means. However, shadow IT represents a serious security concern because IT can’t protect assets it’s not aware of or secure data stored in personal cloud accounts.

The clash between business needs and shadow IT has sparked the citizen developer movement. By sticking to approved tools and platforms, tech-savvy users can develop their own solutions faster while staying within the bounds of IT policies.

You can read the complete article on TechBeacon: How IT can stop worrying and learn to love the citizen developer movement.

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