Should enterprises use citizen developers? (Or those employees that are not formally hired as software engineers.)
With the growing shortage of qualified IT candidates, many organizations are looking for alternative IT talent sources. One option is citizen developers. These employees use a visual integrated development environment (IDE) that allows citizen developers to build applications through drag-and-drop components. The no-code or low-code platforms let users drag components into a construct that connects the associated functionality into an application. As the platform names imply, citizen developers do not write code (no code). Some platforms allow custom code (low code) that requires coding experience. With low-code platforms, citizen developers can build applications; however, these platforms are often used in IT to expedite the development process.
Forrester predicts that 75% of development shops will adopt a low-code-no-code platform in 2021. These solutions enable developers to build cloud-native applications ten times faster than more traditional methods. Gartner forecasts that low-code-no-code solutions will be responsible for over 65% of application development by 2024, with 75% of large enterprises using a minimum of four platforms. McKinsey estimates that citizen developers increase an organization’s innovative abilities by as much as 33%. Given the estimated increase in low-code-no-code solutions, should your IT department be using citizen developers?
Promoters of citizen developers point to the lack of qualified IT candidates and the long lead times to deliver applications as the two primary reasons to use low-code-no-code platforms. However, these are not the only factors to consider. Citizen developers can minimize shadow IT, boost productivity, and encourage innovation.
Citizen Developers Shorten Lead Times
A recent survey of organizations found that low-code solutions significantly reduce IT backlogs:
- Companies using low-code were more satisfied with project delivery schedules than those that were not. Over 35% of respondents said management was satisfied with project delivery frequency, while only 25% of non-users were happy with the frequency of delivery.
- On average, web and mobile applications were delivered in fewer than four months in 64% of low-code using companies. Only 49% of non-low-code users were able to deliver applications in less than four months.
- Nearly 50% of low-code companies said their backlog had improved with the use of no-code platforms. This was 12% higher than for organizations that did not use low-code platforms.
This data indicates that developers can deliver solutions faster with low-code solutions, easing IT’s stress, which is frequently blamed for delays in digital transformation.
Low-code is not just for developers. In many cases, citizen developers build the application and use IT to write custom code to address specific requirements. This implementation not only speeds delivery but also encourages collaboration among business units. IT can’t write code to address specific business needs without speaking with business units. And, business units can’t build applications without learning how IT works.
Citizen Developers Bridge Skills Gap
Low-code platforms let IT departments deliver more with less. Because developers can deliver applications faster, IT departments can meet delivery deadlines without an increase in personnel. No-code platforms allow IT departments to use resources outside of IT to help reduce project queues. However, not every employee is a citizen developer in waiting. IT managers need to find the right citizen developers if they will realize the full potential of low-code-no-code platforms.
When looking for potential citizen developers, consider the following:
- Should there be levels of citizen developers? If so, should they be based on skill, business unit, or other criteria?
- What is the attitude and aptitude of a good citizen developer?
- How will citizen developers be rewarded?
- How will developers be managed?
Most organizations create a citizen development program that is managed through IT. Individuals within each business unit are identified and trained in using no-code platforms. In the beginning, there may not be developers in each business unit, so it is important to find the right developer for each use case. Success is essential in the early stages, so matching skills and use cases is crucial.
Control Shadow IT
The growing number of shadow IT applications should be of concern to every IT department. The latest statistics show that:
- Shadow IT uses ten times the storage of known IT applications.
- Companies average 975 unknown but only 108 known services.
- 35% of employees circumvent security policies to use shadow IT.
- Over 65% of employees use their own collaboration tools.
The wide-spread use of unauthorized applications has financial ramifications:
- About 10% of software licenses are only used once a month.
- Between 10% and 15% of a company’s technology stack does not have approval.
- Between 20% and 40% of technology spend is done outside IT’s control.
It’s estimated that companies lose a total of $1.7 trillion per year because of shadow IT security breaches. For most businesses, shadow IT is becoming the biggest concern when it comes to cybersecurity. A lack of governance and adherence to best practices make shadow IT a significant threat to an organization’s business viability.
Moving to a citizen development model enables IT to take control of unauthorized usage. Companies can control technology spend, so resources are allocated to advance business strategies. They can ensure that applications are properly implemented to comply with best practices and minimize vulnerabilities that can develop. Although a lack of qualified IT candidates and an increasing backlog of IT projects are immediate concerns, the inability to secure the enterprise is of far greater concern.
Citizen Developer Models
Many IT professionals consider the existing shadow IT landscape to be a technical wild west with little oversight. Despite IT efforts, many applications operate in the shadows without visibility for those responsible for maintaining a safe infrastructure. Bringing those applications under a citizen development program makes it possible for IT to ensure a safer operating environment.
However, citizen development programs require a manager who is willing to work with non-technical employees to create a workforce deployed across the enterprise. If the culture is not conducive to cross-functional teams, it won’t be easy to realize low-code-no-code platforms’ innovative potential. Improved delivery times will be difficult to achieve. As a result, many within the organization may revert to shadow IT.
When looking at possible platforms, IT must look at their ability to scale and ensure secure applications. More than one platform may be advisable to avoid vendor lock-in and to ensure that functionality is maintained. Perhaps, the biggest obstacle to low-code-no-code solutions is IT. Many developers avoid using these solutions because they believe they lack flexibility and will increase demand for customized code, adding to an already huge backlog.
Adopting a citizen developer model isn’t a question of if; it is a question of when and to what degree. The agility that no-code-low-code platforms provide will force organizations to adopt the technology. The critical factor is deciding in advance what model has the right framework to deliver the desired results.