Citizen Development: Definition, Benefits and Implementation

Software developers are in high demand right now — and organizations are struggling to find the right candidates amid a global industry shortage

Suffice to say, there’s a high price to pay if you’re lacking tech talent. Software solutions can’t be built, implemented, and maintained at the pace or scale your business might need. 

In this kind of environment, IT backlogs can quickly spiral and digital transformation efforts can grind to a halt.

But there’s an answer to this lack of software specialists. Citizen development.  


What is citizen development? 

By 2023, Gartner predicts that the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers. Given the challenges outlined above, that’s a very necessary evolution. 

Citizen development allows non-IT employees to build business applications with low- and no-code platforms. In turn, they can improve business processes that free up the IT team to focus on more business-critical activities. 

It’s important to note that citizen developers should be subject matter experts. They’ll know exactly how a process/area within your business works, and have the insight to improve it. They simply need the right IT tools to develop a solution. There are also different types of citizen developer with their own needs, skills and experiences. 

Good citizen development programs are an essential means of delivering the benefits of digital transformation, leading to happier employees who are empowered to make substantial changes based on their expertise as well as making productivity gains and improving customer experiences. 


What are the benefits of citizen development? 

There are a whole host of reasons to start a citizen development program.  

1. Accelerates time-to-market 

Things change quickly. To get out ahead of your competitors you always need to be on the lookout for ways to release new products and services quickly to meet changing needs and seize new opportunities. Citizen development helps you speed up product development so you can get things to market before the competition. 

2. Increases innovation 

By upskilling your team with a citizen development program, you drive innovation by making it everyone’s prerogative. Rather than relying on busy IT teams to build, test and implement new ideas, no- and low-code tools mean your citizen developers can innovate and help design new apps with ease. 

3. Increases agility 

App development used to take weeks or even months. But with citizen development you can start testing new ideas within days. By using intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces and wizards to guide the development process, business users can build enterprise-grade apps easily without slowing down other areas of the business. This means you can adapt quickly to new challenges or seize new opportunities.  

4. Reduces costs 

No- and low-code platforms mean citizen developers can create apps in less time with less budget. It means you can do much more in-house, using existing resources and employees, rather than outsourcing work, taking on more developers, or buying third-party apps.  

5. Takes the pressure off your IT team 

If your business is like most businesses, your IT team already has a lot of plates spinning — from maintaining your infrastructure to driving digital transformation goals. By putting app development largely in the hands of citizen developers, your expert developers can take a big step back — acting as collaborators when needed, and providing the advanced technical skills required to bring a project to completion. This shift in emphasis and responsibility means they’re freed up to focus on more complex projects.  


How do you implement citizen development?

One of the perceived barriers to citizen development is that it introduces too much risk to place development in the hands of employees outside IT who may not understand, for instance, issues around data security or integration.  

In fact, with a good citizen development program you can mitigate all of these risks while also getting the benefit of closer collaboration between business departments and IT in alignment with broader goals.  

Using the right no- or low-code platform gives your IT team the ability to set security standards for apps and what features will be available to users before non-developers get their hands on it. To do this well, you need strong collaboration between the users and the IT department to determine what kinds of challenges need solving and what will be required, so you can develop a robust framework for permissions and other requirements.  

You can also layout a process for deployment (from draft to pilot to published) that means you can have confidence in every new app that makes its way into a live environment.  


Getting started with citizen development 

Citizen development is the way to empower your whole workforce to drive your digital transformation efforts. To find out how to start your program and the tools you need to do it, check out our dedicated video series.