Do Citizen Developers Help or Hurt IT?

Citizen Development on the riseNew data shows that the number of citizen developers is on the rise, and they’re creating more apps faster than ever. While that sounds alarming on the surface, there’s plenty of reason for developers and other tech pros to look at it positively.

If you’re not familiar with citizen development, it’s a term coined for any non-developer who writes simple apps, often using a visual programming language interface or one that requires little coding knowledge. Oftentimes, the apps are bespoke solutions to unique problems a customer faces. With others, customers simply create their own apps (but that’s less prevalent).

Visual programming is a bit of a pipe dream for hardcore developers, but finds a nice niche with citizen developers. It basically allows anyone to connect dots of code snippets and create a simple app via a formulaic process (think IFTTT, but for corporate). The solutions are often limited to a company’s own needs if they’re not for customers.

Based on a survey spanning 2015 and 2016, Quickbase found its own citizen development platform was taking off. Within those two years, it saw a 38 percent increase in the number of solutions replaced via its platform. A surprising 53 percent of its users build apps in two weeks or less.

The reasons citizen development are attractive to Quickbase’s users probably won’t surprise you, either. In addition to how quickly apps can be turned around, updating and maintaining those apps is also easier. That ease also allows citizen developers to build custom solutions for customers; up to 65 percent of unfulfilled customer requests for apps can be solved with citizen development, suggests Quickbase.

Some 76 percent of citizen developers tell Quickbase that app development is now part of their daily workflow, with 15 percent reporting they’ve picked up some real coding skills along the way.

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Citizen Developers are Having Positive Effects

What impact citizen developers have on IT day-to-day is hard to measure, but all indications are that the long-term effects are positive.

First, many apps developed by non-developers are simple solutions to one-off problems, which can help keep Post-its off the development team’s whiteboard. Citizen developers help IT by managing direct customer concerns without requesting a feature for wider implementation where it may not be suitable.

Citizen development also leads to a more collaborative experience. While most (62 percent) of apps are developed without any input from outside sources (a solo employee creating an app to solve a customer’s solution, for instance), 38 percent have input from IT, with 17 percent of citizen-developed apps being IT-led solutions.

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That can be as simple as professionals squashing bugs, but often comes in the form of control. IT still holds all the keys to points of entry into a database, and they often create tools for citizen developers to utilize for their own creations. IT pros also make sure the necessary compliance and security protocols are followed.

OutSystem says up to 71 percent of citizen developers on its platform need input from the IT department at some point in the process.

Citizen developers may also open up new avenues for broader app development. Quickbase notes that 26 new business use-cases have been identified on its platform via citizen development, and that 35 percent of apps created on its low-code platform are customer-facing rather than internally used apps.

It may blur the lines a bit – citizen developers aren’t quite developers, after all – but the data suggests the practice is a winning proposition for everyone: tech pros have time to work on high-end projects without needing to manage individual customer desires, but those customers don’t go wanting for some basic functionality that suits their individual IT needs. You can’t argue with that.