Becoming a citizen developer
|Richard Harris in Low Code No Code Thursday, April 6, 2017|
How citizen developers are making mobile apps for the workplace without actually programming any code.
Like all major platform shifts, this creates opportunities and threats for businesses. Platform shifts also create talent shortages. Platforms can take off quickly, but it often takes years before the new skill-sets are widely available, and that’s where we are with mobility. Should it come as a surprise, then, that Mobile Developer is now the best job in America?
There’s an imbalance when it comes to mobility in the enterprise: Employees want to use mobile devices and mobile apps in the workplace, however this cannot take place place until IT organizations democratize tools and decentralize their control of app development.
Something’s Gotta Give
While the need for enterprise mobile apps is there, given the shortage and expense of mobile development skills, employee-facing enterprise apps usually take a “back seat” to consumer-facing apps because of the market imperative for many businesses to have a mobile app. It’s a little like the mid-90’s when every now and then you’d talk to a company that didn’t yet have a website (yes, Millennials, this really used to happen).
Companies have a major challenge with enterprise and employee-facing apps. The consumer app-development model can’t be effectively applied to enterprise needs. Companies can’t afford teams of developers, 6-9 month development cycles and six-figure project budgets to tackle every enterprise use case.
Calling All Citizen Developers!
Against this backdrop, we’re seeing the emergence of a new role in this landscape. They’re sometimes called “Citizen Developers.” A citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. In the past, end-user application development has typically been limited to single-user or workgroup solutions built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. However, 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.
The whole concept is predicated on technologies that allow for codeless or nearly-codeless delivery of new apps. It’s not specific to mobile apps of course, but it’s getting extra attention in the mobile space because of the talent shortage mentioned above. Drag-and-drop design environments, inheriting processes and permissions from existing systems, and even artificial intelligence are lowering the barriers and making mobile citizen development more and more accessible. We’re already seeing several patterns emerge across these Citizen Developers.
The first is business alignment. Citizen developers don’t write from a “functional spec” like a programmer. Their “requirements” list comes from a deep understanding of the business processes that need to be mobilized, prioritized in concert with the key business stakeholders. They don’t do “build it and they will come,” and they typically have a high sense of urgency around delivering something quickly once the highest-value use cases are identified.
They have “good enough” tech skills. Think about the people in your workplace who write or record macros in Excel. They’re not programmers per se, but they’re comfortable learning and using functionality that makes them more productive, as long as it’s accessible to “mere mortals.” And they understand their company’s application environment well enough to know what processes and data live in the relevant systems.
They have a pent-up desire to really make a difference for their company. Many of them have worked for years “keeping the lights on” in IT, maintaining existing systems, mostly thanklessly. Citizen development lets them deliver new capabilities that improve customer experience and dramatically streamline existing processes, often while re-using what they have. And because these apps are delivered on mobile devices, they can deliver business impact at the “edges of the enterprise” in a way that desktop-bound enterprise applications can’t.
One example of a Citizen Developer is Lonnie Johnson, Vice President of Business Information Technology, KVC Health Systems, a provider of in-home family support, foster care, adopt adoption, behavioral healthcare and other services:
“My team at KVC Health Systems does not include mobile app developers. After hearing our field workers’ need for a mobile solution so they could collect data on-the-go, I knew that my team didn’t have the expertise to create custom mobile apps, nor did we have the resources to outsource. After considering different options, I decided to use a mobile app platform that didn’t require any coding. Within a few weeks, I created several custom mobile apps based on our existing technology system that allowed our field workers to expedite case updates and action plans, saving them approx. 75 minutes of work per day.”
Lonnie and his team fall into all three patterns of a Citizen Developer - business alignment, “good enough” tech skills and a desire to make a difference.
But What about Security? What about “Shadow IT?”
There are valid concerns about mobile citizen development. Stories like this one give IT leaders pause for fear that citizen developers could compromise security. And there are frustrated IT departments still stinging from business leaders ignoring IT, purchasing cloud solutions, and becoming a de facto “shadow IT” department.
Should they be concerned that mobile citizen development will drive more shadow IT? The answer is a definitive “no.” Most enterprise-ready mobile citizen development platforms provide comprehensive security, management, and deployment options including fitting into an organization’s Enterprise Mobility Management framework. But all of those things require a conversation with real IT professionals, so they’ll have to be involved before anything is deployed.
Whether you prefer Gartner’s “Rapid Mobile Application Development” (“RMAD”) or Forrester’s “Low-code Mobile Development Platforms,” the trend of citizen development is likely to persist as the shift to mobility continues and the demand for apps increases.
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