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Citizen Development: Driving Enterprise Digital Transformations

Citizen Development

As part of Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series—a collection of articles written by industry thought leaders in maturing software categories—Kevin Shuler, the CEO of Quandary Consulting Group, dives deep into how citizen development can help companies drive their enterprise digital transformation efforts.

Customer demands are higher than ever, margins are smaller, employees are desperate for better work methods, and shadow IT plagues businesses, putting them at risk. While technology promises relief, enterprise organizations struggle to transform workflows and processes successfully. IT backlog is at an all-time high, and finding and retaining software engineers is getting harder and harder. All the while, teams are forced to do more with less.

To overcome those challenges, enterprises should look to citizen developers. With citizen development, you can scale digital solutions, reduce IT backlog, and successfully transform your organization.

Why 70 Percent of Enterprise Digital Transformations Fail

Many organizations have unrealistic expectations for enterprise digital transformations, causing most projects to fail. Recognizing why this happens can help your organization plan better, leading to success. These are the reasons why digital transformations fail:

  1. Ignoring Root Problems
  2. No Strategy or Goal
  3. Weak ROI
  4. Doing Too Much, Too Quickly
  5. Inexperienced Teams
  6. Resistance to Change
  7. Inadequate Technology Infrastructure
  8. Lack of Leadership Support

The Benefits of Enterprise Digital Transformation

Enterprise digital transformations unlock incredible benefits by allowing seamless data flow between systems. By breaking down data silos, data becomes cleaner and more actionable, helping teams to understand customers betters, resulting in better services and products. Teams also have more time to innovate and identify unique opportunities. Digital transformation facilitates effortless collaboration among teams. As a result, stakeholders will feel more empowered to act on accurate data, driving more business value and keeping your business competitive.

What Is Citizen Development?

Citizen development is the reliance on business users instead of IT teams to build unique applications, integrations, and automations that support digital transformation goals. Citizen developers use low-code/no-code tools to quickly build the desired solutions without a software engineering background. Rather than flood IT teams with endless requests, citizen developers take a more active role in application development. 

How Citizen Developers Support Digital Transformation

Developing digital solutions requires significant resources. These resources are harder to find with current macroeconomic climates and the software engineer shortage. Citizen development gives businesses a more affordable path to the same results as traditional application development. This is because they can leverage a business background (instead of a developer background) to design solutions.

Citizen development provides value in three areas: creating faster application development, enabling innovation, and reducing Shadow IT. In short, citizen development expands the capabilities of your IT team by delegating low-level application development tasks to team members. These tech-savvy employees balance their daily tasks with citizen development, working to streamline how work gets done. 

How to Implement an Enterprise-Level Citizen Development Program

Building a successful citizen development program requires a careful approach. You need proper guardrails and frameworks, or you risk driving shadow IT, increasing risk, and wasting resources. This is how you launch an enterprise-level citizen development program: 

Define Your Mission and Goals

Your citizen development program needs a clear mission and established goals based on data to be successful. Determine what you want from your citizen development program, determine how it will help drive enterprise digital transformation, and choose the KPIs you’ll use to measure success. Without a clear mission, it’s easy for your team to lose focus. Without KPIs, evaluating success and getting leadership to support your program is challenging.

Get Buy-In

Start by making a case for citizen development. Work with leaders who understand the value of enterprise digital transformation and digital solutions to remain competitive. Create a business case study illustrating how citizen development will provide a measurable ROI regarding cost-savings, innovation, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

Next, get stakeholders involved. Choose the department to pilot the program based on the potential ROI and ease of implementation. Explain how citizen development will improve their workflows and outputs. Get your team excited about the change, too. 

Establish a Center of Excellence (CoE)

Your center of excellence ensures your citizen developers maintain high performance and output. It also keeps processes and applications consistent across your organization. Your CoE should have resources, community access, and opportunities for your citizen developers to upskill regularly. Coaching can go a long way to improving the quality of solutions your citizen developers can create. 

Invest in Upskilling

You’ll need to give your team time to upskill. Most citizen developers don’t have a background in professional development, so they’ll need time and resources to understand application development fundamentals (compliance, security, and quality).

Citizen developers also need to learn how to use LCNC tools. This means educating themselves on the capabilities and limitations of your chosen tools, learning how data moves between these systems, and understanding how the organization will use LCNC to support enterprise transformation.

You likely won’t hire a full-time citizen developer until your citizen development program reaches a specific size. Instead, you’ll rely on full-time employees to balance regular work with citizen development tasks. Once your program gains traction, you can hire coaches to help citizen developers improve. 

Choose a Low-Code Platform

You need the right tool for your business needs. There are numerous low-code tools on the market, and they vary in ability. You should take the same approach to evaluate any other tool for your enterprise. Evaluate your budget, read reviews, speak with vendors, and determine the capabilities of each device. You need a tool that connects to existing systems and provides clear data insights. 

As your citizen development program evolves and you bring on new LCNC tools, you’ll want to have established guidelines for vetting and choosing them. Creating a checklist is a simple way for your team to evaluate whether new tools best fit your enterprise.

Pilot Out the Program

One of the biggest mistakes enterprise organizations make with digital transformations is doing too much too fast. Enterprise systems are too complex, with too many interconnected workflows and processes to rush change. Without the proper experience and training, this is a recipe for disaster. A better approach is to decide on a department in your organization that could benefit from LCNC tools and citizen development. Work with them to set up processes, implement, record results, and reflect on the program. 

Over time, you’ll discover what works for your organization and what areas you should avoid. Additionally, you’ll develop the systems and experience necessary to transform more of your enterprise. 

Remain Flexible

Team dynamics change, services change, the market changes, and unknown data streams and complications will arise. Technology also evolves rapidly, creating new opportunities while making certain approaches obsolete. As a result, your team must be flexible to change. Adopting a continuous improvement mindset is critical. Focus on helping people (customers and employees) with working solutions that drive success in a rapidly shifting environment.  

Set Clear Guardrails and Asset Risk

It’s one thing for a citizen developer to build a simple solution that improves a workflow. It’s quite another for them to design a solution that impacts other departments, connects with existing systems, and affects the customer. This is why citizen developers must have IT oversight. 

Clear guardrails help citizen developers understand what they can and cannot improve. For example, you should categorize applications based on complexity and risk. From there, you can determine which applications your citizen developer can work on independently and which IT should build. Creating a safe “sandbox” environment is also critical. This empowers your citizen developers to innovate without causing any disruption to business workflows. And they can work on improvements parallel to existing infrastructure, launching only once IT teams have approved the applications.

Enterprise Citizen Development Challenges

Citizen development in enterprise organizations is not without its challenges. Understanding what these are and why they occur can help guide policies to avoid these issues.

  1. Poor Quality Apps
  2. Duplicate Apps
  3. Unnecessary apps
  4. Unused Apps

The framework and governance within the CoE of a well-built citizen development program make the challenges less frequent. IT oversight and training ensure citizen developers create high-quality applications aligned with business goals. An application library prevents redundancies by storing all relevant applications in one place for team review.

Misconceptions About Enterprise Citizen Development

Opponents of citizen development argue that the program isn’t worth the trouble. They believe citizen developers expose the business to unnecessary risk while complicating the development process. There are additional concerns around shadow IT and additional pressure on IT teams to govern citizen developers. One concern is that citizen developers will push out traditional development, costing people their jobs.

It’s essential to address these concerns early on. Citizen development is an extension of IT. It allows developers to delegate what they view as tedious application development so that they can focus on mission-critical tasks. By investing in your citizen developers, you can train them to build high-quality, secure applications with minimal reliance on IT teams. This means that your IT team’s jobs are secure while employees scale productivity. In fact, citizen developers can support professional developers by reducing the IT backlog. As a result, you’ll lower burnout rates and improve developer retention.

Citizen Development Is Critical for Enterprise Digital Transformation

Without digital solutions, it’s impossible to remain competitive and relevant in today’s market. There are too many apps that make teams more efficient than ever before, and there is too much data to track with Excel spreadsheets and manual processes. Without automating tasks, you’ll struggle to gain the clear data insights you need to stay agile and make effective business decisions. Instead of innovating, your team will waste time on manual tasks, miss opportunities, and, over time, your customers will find other organizations that can meet their expectations. 

Citizen development helps your organization transform into an agile machine that leverages accurate data streams to pivot with the market. And it does it without exhausting your team. The only way to survive in a digital marketplace is with a digital team that can build the business your customers expect tomorrow, today.

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