Rise of the Citizen Developer

21 April by Cognitive Group

Rsz Woman Working

The term ‘Citizen Developers’ has been popping up across several IT functions and within different verticals for a while now, from app development within airports to automotive repair companies.  But what does this term actually mean, and how important could it grow to become? 

What is a ‘Citizen Developer’? 

Citizen developers are those that build software using rapid development and low or no-code platforms – essentially building apps for themselves or perhaps their team, to optimize their work. 

A low or no-code platform is a visual integrated development environment that allows users to drag-and-drop application components, connect them together and create apps. A great example is Microsoft Power Apps, which has recently been recommended by Forrester as well as gartner. If you want to read more on these platforms and how they work, then check out the article linked below: https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/powerapps-for-pros-develop-faster-with-low-code/

The beauty of this whole situation is that it’s the people that are actually closest to a problem, that are using technology to solve said problem, and bringing large scale benefits to whole organizations in the process. 

Good news at the right time… 

Senior officials from the world of IT implementation have cited this movement as continuing to be one of the most transformational within the IT talent market over the next few years. It’s no secret that there is currently a technology skills shortage in the UK at present: recent research has shown that 70% of employers have been experiencing this in the UK technology sector this year, with Software Development being the 3rd most sought-after skill, and over half of employers finding candidates lack the right technical skills.  

In light of this, citizen developers are proving to be an excellent way for organisations to bridge the gap. A no-code development platform allows users to build applications without the need for hand-coding, so instead of using traditional programming languages, creating apps becomes much more accessible. This is great news for employers as they can look inwards and provide an infrastructure that encourages innovation and upskilling to provide talent solutions. 

Cross-training

Another benefit to consider is that this is drawing more professionals from a non-technology based background towards the IT market as their exposure to technology not only equips them with skills, but also stimulates an interest. This idea could be fundamental in closing the current skills gap, by increasing the amount of skilled IT professionals in the UK. Not only this but a greater amount of candidates increases competition amongst talent, which improves the overall quality of professionals – so it seems this movement can stimulate an increase in the quantity and quality of IT professionals, to satisfy the current woes of employers. 

It’s also worth pointing out a different kind of benefit for employers that has been born out of the rise of Citizen developers, and it’s all about costs. It’s already been outlined how businesses can look inwards to hire Citizen Developers, which saves them to the time and cost of hiring a larger IT department externally. Further to this, their ability to automate workflows and processes makes further savings on both fronts. Power Apps enables users to create, manage and share business apps on iOS, Android and Window devices, whilst also having connections to various Microsoft-based and third-party applications, including Microsoft SWL Server, SharePoint and OneDrive in the Office 365 productivity suite, as well as Dropbox, Google Docs, SAP, Oracle and Dynamics CRM. All of this is hosted on Microsoft Azure and allows the complete control of development, implementation and maintenance of apps for those that build them to manage time, money and resources more efficiently. 

Whilst this all sounds well and good, it is of course much easier said than done, so how can you successfully look inward to find those with the potential to be high-performing citizen developers? 

Finding the right talent 

As aforementioned, the beautiful nature of citizen developers is that they are closest to the problem, however even the most-skilled will likely need some professional help to get off the ground. Someone with a professional/specialist background can transfer knowledge and instruct citizen developers in the ins and outs of the platform they will be using to develop apps. By recognizing the potential of internal employees, implementing a suitable low or no-code platform that can accommodate the whole company's software needs, and providing professional guidance, employees from any department can grow to become citizen developers and start creating advantageous solutions for the whole company. 

Case studies 

Martin Lee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3clbGuHvzs 

Just to really hammer home how direct this process can be, a great example to call upon is one from Martin Lee of Autoglass. Martin begun at the company as a dispatcher, doing a lot of data reporting which proved to be overly time-consuming. The idea was to solve this problem, and create more time for important business activities, mainly those that actually generate revenue. Martin began by building a simple app through Microsoft Power Apps to streamline the workflow process between technicians and operations managers, to store the data quicker, and all in one place. Needless to say that this completely promoted a digital transformation throughout the whole business, and saving an estimated £1.6 million a year in potential revenue in this process! His role now? He’s still at Autoglass, but now as a Software Developer, with around 40 apps that have been deployed within the company and his future career now taking an IT route.  

Sami Saini: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBc9ophAYCc 

Another great example to highlight here is Samit Saini at Heathrow Airport. Samit started off working security and began using Power Apps to build digital substitutions for the traditional paperwork and admin that he dealt with day-to-day. The initial app saved approximately 11,000 sheets of paper and 288 hours of manual input data, which is rather remarkable. Samit has since moved on from security to become an IT User Adoption Specialist at Heathrow, building 17 apps with the team that now works with him that are all used across what is one of the world’s biggest airports. 

Re-shaping the future of IT

The emergence and growth of citizen developer over the past 5 years seems to have been growing significantly and could be the biggest factor in re-shaping the IT employment market within the UK in the near future. 

Citizen developers excel in building centralized apps for administration, data-tracking and reporting to save time, resources and overall revenue for businesses. What’s key though, is that building these apps via these no-code platforms enables greater control over them internally – so rather than having dozens of unsynchronized and unmonitored applications floating around every department, organizations can leverage the data easier and to their advantage. Organizations should be encouraging innovation so that citizen developers can emerge to make small changes, begin solving problems that can be implemented on a bigger scale. 

So, from a recruitment perspective, we need to embrace professionals coming from various backgrounds, as there are clearly lots of professionals with the potential to emerge as developers. These people understand data, how to use it, how to store it, and how to leverage it advantageously, and so can solve problems and drive success within companies. In a UK talent market where skills are short and barriers are high, this is an effective transformation that eases entry for professionals from other disciplines to build a technological skillset and transform the IT infrastructure within businesses that they already understand, for the better. 

The future looks bright and it’s time for firms to look inwards, perhaps more so, than outwards.