Navigating The Potential Pitfalls of Citizen Development

Citizen development has become a popular solution to help organisations tackle the IT skills shortage, however, to truly capitalise on the opportunity presented, business leaders need to carefully navigate potential pitfalls. Today’s article explores some of the potential pitfalls of citizen development and how to address them.

The author of this page: Gerry Canning
Gerry Canning, D365 and Power Platform Pre-Sales Lead Sep 06, 2023

Citizen development has been gaining traction over the past few years, viewed as a solution to the skills shortage that many companies are seeing within their IT teams. New technologies enabling a move from complex coding to more streamlined development of technology applications have facilitated this growth. Citizen development is the business practice of involving non-technical business professionals (those who do not have any training in software development) in the building and deploying of business applications and digital processes. Citizen developers are enabled by low-code/no-code technology platforms such as Microsoft’s Power Platform.

Citizen developers can be utilised in an organisation to help tackle the software developer shortage seen across the globe. According to Forrester, there will be a deficit of 500,00- software developers in the US alone by 2024. As well as tackling talent shortage, another role of the citizen developer is to help relieve the burden on IT teams who have long backlogs of requests. A 2021 survey by Dimensional Research noted that 71% of business leaders and 77% of technology leaders stated that their IT teams have pipelines of new technology solution requests that cannot be addressed in a timely manner. Further with the ever-changing business landscape forcing organisations to respond to evolving customer needs more quickly, organisations need to be agile and accelerate digital transformation. Citizen development can help organisations tackle this too by streamlining application development.

However, while citizen development offers a solution to a number of problems experienced by many organisations in today’s working environment, it is important that business leaders put strategies in place to mitigate potential pitfalls. Below we explore some of the common challenges that your organisation may face.

Low-Quality Applications

When business applications are created by non-IT professionals, it is often the case that they end up being less effective than expected. Inefficient workflows and poor design are just some of the common issues that can be seen. After all, citizen developers are not developers and do not have much technical expertise in comparison to professional developers. In reality, they are tech-savvy business professionals untrained in the use of low-code, as a result, they are likely unfamiliar with different application development best practices and principles. Organisations need to be understanding of the fact that they don’t have an IT background and provide them with the support they require.

Unused & Unnecessary Applications

Following on from the previous point about low-quality applications. Another issue that can arise is poor user adoption of an application when it is low quality or if there are a number of issues with it. As non-professionals, it is likely it will take citizen developers some time to create more efficient applications even with sufficient training. Further, citizen developers may also create unnecessary apps. This is more likely if there are communication bottlenecks in an organisation. For example, a citizen developer may create an application with the same functionality that already exists in a different application or in a different business tool that they are unaware of. To prevent this, correct It governance is required.

Time Consuming

Introducing citizen development into your organisation can be a time-consuming process. While the low-code platforms and tools exist to help citizen developers create applications, they still need to receive sufficient training to ensure that they are making the best use of their time and providing the organisation with the best return on investment from the tools. However, extremely busy and even overworked organisations may not be able to find the time to schedule this training. While these are the organisations that may benefit from citizen development in the long run, without the correct training it could cause more disruption instead of benefit.

Security Risks

With the number of cyber security threats continuing to rise, organisations must ensure that security is at the forefront of everything that they do. It can be difficult for citizen developers to follow security and compliance protocols while developing applications due to a lack of expertise. To help address this professional developers can review apps in accordance with any organisation's policies around security and compliance. Further, citizen development needs to be governed correctly to ensure all applications are compliant.  

How Can Organsiations Mitigate These Pitfalls?

Citizen development should amplify organisations' IT capabilities, not hinder them. One way of setting your organisation up for success with citizen development is creating a Centre of Excellence (CoE). A CoE is a strategic entity within a company which is made up of representatives from the wider organisation and IT who provide governance for citizen development within the organisation. A CoE can help provide resources, best practices and tools to citizen developers, it can help improve communication ad collaboration between IT and citizen developers and ensure all new apps align with business objectives. Overall a CoE aims to help scale development within the organisation in a way that will not have negative impacts.

While a centre of excellence is a great way of ensuring your organisation sets citizen developers up for success, sometimes this approach does not suit smaller companies that do not have the correct staff with the time required to manage and maintain a CoE. In this case, team augmentation could be a viable option. Team augmentation is an outsourcing strategy which involves hiring skilled technology resources to cover necessary positions in your organisation. However, in this case, team augmentation can be used to bring a skilled technology resource to upskill your team in a low-code platform and help tackle the IT skills gap while the rest of your team gets up to speed.

If you would like to learn more about your organisation could harness the power of low-code tools such as Power Platform, get in touch to speak to a specialist.

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