Employee empowerment is all the rage these days, and rightly so. Not only do empowered employees tend to be more motivated, creative, and more likely to trust their leaders, but research suggests companies with empowered employees are 21% more profitable overall. On the flip side, disengaged employees in the US cost businesses a whopping $450 to $550 billion each year.
From enabling staff to work from wherever they’d like and giving them dedicated training budgets, to involving them in company decisions and letting them take control of their work, there are so many ways organizations can empower their workers. One increasingly popular way of doing so comes in the form of citizen development. Here we look at what exactly citizen developers are and the pros and cons of using employees in this way.
What are Citizen developers?
Citizen development is a business process in which non-IT-trained workers become software developers, building business applications. This form of software development empowers employees to become developers despite having no or little coding training — hence the term citizen developer. The platforms used by citizen developers automatically provide the required lines of code, typically allowing them to drag and drop icons to build and update applications. Nowadays, it’s common to refer to those platforms as low code/no code (LCNC).
Examples of Low code/No code (LCNC) platforms
One of the most obvious examples of such a platform is Zoho Creator, which utilizes drag and drops features to allow employees to build anything from online catalogs to lead management tools. Regardless of whether they need to bring over data from a report or automate a complex workflow, the platform’s intuitive UI and guided scripting make app development simple.
An example of a low code platform with a more streamlined focus is EASA. This allows users to convert Excel spreadsheets into web applications, which helps to secure a company’s intellectual property, provide database functionality to its spreadsheets and enable version control. Here, the native spreadsheets are used as a ‘back-end’ process, utilizing the existing Excel file, with citizen developers able to take that spreadsheet and create web apps themselves, without any programming required.
Why use Citizen developers?
Aside from empowering employees, some of the main benefits of using citizen developers include:
It reduces the burden on IT departments
With the scope of IT departments growing in an increasingly digital world, anything that can reduce the burden on them is welcome, and that’s exactly what citizen development does. This eases the responsibility of IT staff to create apps, enabling them to focus their efforts elsewhere.
Through citizen development, companies build up a large number of workers who can perform necessary IT tasks. This reduces the need for IT professionals and the related costs their work involves, helping businesses to streamline their finances.
It boosts efficiency
Gone are the days when app development took months upon months. Because LCNC platforms use existing code to accelerate the creation of apps, it enables employees to make changes quickly as a company evolves, therefore improving efficiency.
What are the cons of Citizen developers?
While relying on citizen developers can certainly bring lots of benefits to a business, it’s important to be aware that this isn’t a perfect solution. Some of the main cons include:
Extra training required
Although LCNC platforms are easy to use, they still require some instruction to navigate. What’s more, as apps need constant updates, citizen developers may need to be regularly trained and re-trained to keep up with these requirements.
Potential subpar quality of apps
A subpar quality app can emerge if IT professionals don’t keep tabs on what citizen developers are doing. Consequently, despite these platforms reducing their burden, IT professionals still play an important part in their development.
As citizen developers are unlikely to have the knowledge required to create security systems for the apps they create, these can potentially pose security risks. Consequently, it’s crucial businesses use LCNC platforms in which security is easy to control and monitor.
Lack of defined process
While being able to build your program is very useful, the processes of seasoned developers also go amiss in the process. Citizen developers lack proper process and management, which makes the results often too informal with no QA, documentation, and updating or maintenance.
So, there you have it: the concept of citizen developers explained. While there are certainly drawbacks to this setup, with enough IT department supervision, the benefits of citizen development outweigh the negatives. It’s, therefore, no wonder that more and more companies are embracing it, and this number is only expected to grow in the coming years.