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Citizen developers good for business and IT

by Marco van der Hoeven

Democratization of IT and citizen developers are a hot topic, especially in RPA and low code. Although the trend is not new, we now see a rapid take up, in a ‘perfect combination of people, process and technology’. This leads to a situation which in the end is beneficially for both the business and IT.

“Citizen development is both the result and the driver of democratization of IT”, says Mark Driver, VP Analyst at Gartner. “It’s part of a number of larger trends, of course, like the digital transformation, computing, Bring your own devices. We now have a generation of IT-workers who have grown up with technology, and feel comfortable with technology at a higher level than ever in the past. So we don’t rely on specialists for everything anymore.”

He points at a whole range of data analysis and application construction that can be done with fairly low level skills, in combination with some highly functional tools. “This all leads to continued democratization of IT. But none of this is really new, it has been going on for decades. Knowledge workers have been building applications outside of core IT since the very first PC’s were introduced in the late 80s. There’s always been this possibility for end users.”


With end users he means knowledge workers like accountants, sales executives and marketeers. “Someone for whom programming isn’t their job, so to speak. We’ve always had tools to allow them to do some level of work. What did change is that in the last five or six years the breadth and depth of what they’re able to do has expanded dramatically.”

“In the past, because of the client-server nature of the computer infrastructure, access into the enterprise was essentially a bottleneck for IT. For large volumes of data and to interconnect with others, the internet has changed that, we’ve gone from old, solid tools like Visual Basic and PowerBuilder to web based solutions. Because these are SaaS-based you need to buy a software subscription on the internet. A non IT-executive within a business unit can go out and buy this technology, without core IT.”

“They can do everything via the cloud via their mobile devices. So the use of these devices has expanded greatly, it is a perfect combination of motive and opportunity: the motive is to do business faster, not to be tied to the timelines of IT which is oftentimes overburdened and overworked. Now citizen developers are of course not building their own ERP systems from the ground up. But they are building everything from spreadsheet replacements to moderately sized applications.”


Research by Gartner has shown for years that IT-decisions are increasingly being made outside of the core CIO and CTO command structures. “They’re happening within the business unit. The people in those business units oftentimes have a high degree of technical skills, or a high degree of technical education. When it comes to the underlying infrastructure, the tools have gotten a bit easier. So SaaS tools can be used to leverage without a degree from university in computer science. The requirements to build these small systems are fairly low level. Vendors have discovered this as well, and are offering low code.”

“It is a perfect combination of people, process and technology. The people are more skilled today than ever before. The tools can help the process and incorporate much of the underlying complexity through templates and oftentimes through artificial intelligence. The process and the tools go well together to give users a nice development experience.”

“The question is, why doesn’t the whole world use these tools? They’ve been around for 40 plus years. The simple answer is that developer productivity, in its most attractive form, is inversely related to flexibility. You get to see just one tool for every kind of every kind of problem, because people tend to be focused at one type of problem. So the tools themselves tend to get become less flexible as you go along.”

“You can think a train on a track as a metaphor. That train goes incredibly fast at exactly two directions. As soon as you divert even five degrees off of any direction, the train is going goes to zero kilometers an hour immediately because it jumps to track. This is the problem with these tools. They don’t give developers a lot of flexibility, because they don’t assume the developer wants that much flexibility. And in many cases, developer doesn’t need that flexibility. But when you begin to build increasingly complex applications, flexibility is critical.”


“For IT, this is both good news and it’s competition. There’s no doubt that business units are making decisions independent of IT, which leads to this concept of shadow IT. The difference between shadow IT and citizen IT is that citizen IT is being done all aboveboard in the business unit, and both the business unit executives and IT are aware of it. There is some acceptance, if not direct collaboration between IT and the business unit in supporting that technology. The good argument for IT is that those ICT resources are generally much more expensive, so they are now free to focus on the much larger projects. So it can be a nice combination that doesn’t have to be a conflict.”

See also:

Citizen developers stimulate innovation


Gartner: Majority of technology products and services will be built by professionals outside of IT


Photo: iStock

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