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The rise of the citizen developer

It may seem like a new idea to many because it is only now becoming mainstream, but many believe the idea of ‘citizen developers’ has been around since the release of Lotus Notes in 1989. And in the tech space, that may as well be a century. Have a look at smartphones, and consider the fact that the innovative mobile phone of 1989 was the Motorola MicroTAC. No comparison.

Living in this age of innovation is like the science fiction of yesterday in many ways. Many children today can already “compute,” using their fingers and swiping on a smartphone or a tablet, often long before they can walk or talk. With this growing tech-savvy population comes an increasingly technical workforce.

Now I don’t mean all are developers, computer engineers, or scientists. I simply mean they have a foundational understanding of computers and computing as they have spent their lives working on them already.

In turn, we’re seeing IT organizations recognize this organically growing technical ability across their organizations, especially in business units. IT has been redefining its approach to how they govern the business using the technologies that they want to use.

Look at how quickly ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) environments became the norm. IT policies changed to adapt to the needs of the business while still protecting and maintaining compliance. Now personal smartphones, tablets, and other devices are commonplace. The use of low-code tools is a new type of sea change that is shifting IT policies around governed enablement of resources to solve their own problems.

Now stop and consider this, three things are converging at this very moment that has driven the idea of citizen developers from the ‘utopia’ of yesterday to the realistic opportunity of today, and ultimately to the mainstream reality of tomorrow.

Technical workforce + cloud + shifting IT focus

This concoction, a trifecta if you will, is what we believe is giving a rocket-like rise to the idea of citizen developers, which is fueling process automation in business today.

For a business to stay ahead of its customers, it must run efficiently and be quick and agile to respond to data marking intelligent points to make adjustments or pivots to drive a healthier business. This requires a completely digital business based in the cloud, utilizing technical resources of all types, with an open IT organization supporting them to ensure your business drives at the speed of a Porsche 911, and not like a single-speed bicycle.

Perhaps it is this ‘trifecta’ that is the catalyst for Gartner predicting that by 2020, 60% of app development will be done outside traditional IT teams. This mix of forces is also bringing IT and the business closer together, as each has needs that now align with similar goals: Speed, Integration, and Ease of Use.


Both IT and the business are in dire need of speed. On the business side, it’s about reducing time to market, and IT needs to be able to respond to those business needs quicker at the same time that their budgets are typically trimming and they are resource-constrained.


Organizations today are using hundreds of disparate services and systems to do business. In fact, according to Kleiner Perkins’ 2017 Internet Trends report, it found that the average enterprise is using between 890 and 1,200 different cloud services.

And on average, over 60-percent of those cloud services are used in business units like marketing, human resources, finance, etc. This makes it hard for the business to operate as one, with data and transactions and more running through so many different systems that not everyone has visibility into.

And on the flip side of that coin, IT is trying to protect the business from exposing itself to threats and keeping its customer data and intellectual property private. Which, is becoming increasingly hard because of this sprawl.

Ease of use

Tools that are easy to use, particularly for a non-technical user group, are the ones that are winning in business units across the enterprise. Particularly when it comes to building apps. As Gartner found in a survey, ease of building apps was ranked as the most important criteria for selecting a citizen development tool by 35-percent of responses. 66-percent of respondents considered it a top-three priority overall.

This capability ensures that not only can you enable the less-technical resources throughout the business units of your organization to build apps and solve everyday business problems; but you’ll also be able to make your professional developers more productive so they can solve simple problems more quickly with low-code tools. In addition, we’ve found that IT is more willing to adopt platforms that are easy to manage. That provides the right tools for IT to ensure the necessary guardrails are in place to easily and effectively govern what the business can and cannot do.

Great! But how?

You might be asking yourself, this is all great! But. How do I do this in my organization? How have others done this, and what should I do to be successful? That’s what’s next. I’ve seen many organizations in different verticals do this. We can learn a lot from what they have done to enable citizen development within their organizations.



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