Citizen development will revolutionize the way we think about app development

Feb 02, 2022
In this article, we will try to answer the following questions:
  • What is a citizen development model?
  • Who can become a citizen developer?
  • How do no-code platforms work?
  • What are their main benefits?
  • In what projects can you use them?
  • What will be the future of citizen development?

What is citizen development?

Citizen development is a term coined to describe the approach that empowers non-IT employees to build business applications. Rather than waiting for the requests to reach the top of the backlog, they may engage in the actual process of software development. These non-tech savvy users can do it with no or very little technical background, but basically not knowing any programing language at all. How is it possible? The key is to implement a well-structured platform that provides tools, overall direction, workflow management, and – above all – takes care of security. It requires collaboration with the IT department, which mainly sets necessary boundaries. And within these boundaries business users can create their apps without bothering IT staff.

Who may become a citizen developer?

Theoretically, everyone in a company can become a citizen developer, but usually, it will be those who understand business matters and their functioning. Think about managers, finance department staff, and business analysts. They all have been educated to identify and solve business problems rather than digging into the complexities of programming languages. To solve those issues, they take the initiative to develop their apps, modify them, or add functionalities to those in use already. This shift – from IT staff to business people – increases the speed and reduces the cost of making changes. It happens mainly by eliminating Chinese whispers between the teams.
However, developing an application is still a manifold and demanding process. That is why to introduce the non-technical employees into development, make the process less time-consuming, and more accessible, we advise taking advantage of the no-code or low-code approach.

No-code platforms

So, we can move smoothly to the next topic, namely low-code or no-code (LCNC) software development. The citizen development revolution – because we can call it that way – has just started. It was made possible thanks to the no-code platforms that non-technical staff uses to create and test their apps. They feature pre-build modules that can be gathered together not writing a single line of code. The users can add, move, and transform app components on their own. Some solutions such as visual drag-and-drop elements work especially well here. What is the key to effectiveness is a clear, intuitive, and easy to navigate interface design. So even the users with no coding expertise can understand it. In no-code platforms, the IT team serves as technical support – controls the overall functioning and security matters. By and large, when citizen developers build apps to improve daily productivity, the IT department can focus on providing more innovative solutions.

The main benefits of citizen development

Allowing non-technical employees to actively participate in app development brings a few crucial benefits.
  1. Firstly, it helps to save time and resources. In the long run, the apps can be built more quickly because instead of coding, citizen developers use pre-built modules. Whenever there is a functionality that has to be added fast, it can happen instantly, not waiting in the product backlog. Then, the IT team can do more demanding tasks and just focus on the overall security matters of the app.
  2. Secondly, decentralized development adds flexibility to many business processes. That makes companies more adaptive to various market changes, so they can endure for example, crises. Internal process changes will have less impact as well.
  3. Thirdly, non-IT staff can have a more precise understanding of the business needs of the app that is under development. After all, they know the purpose and the end-users best.
  4. Finally, citizen development creates a sense of empowerment among the non-IT team. They just want to get the work done fast, not waiting for some spare slots in the IT department schedule; in fact, rarely there are any. Being in power of change and improvement helps to get rid of frustration. Feeling better, employees work more efficiently.

How can we use citizen development in a commercial project?

The model is suitable for a variety of products – web applications, websites, e-stores, and newsletters. On the market, you’ll find ready-made no-code platforms, but bigger or more security-focused companies prefer to build their own products. At Vazco, we believe in that approach to such an extent that we design our own no-code and low-code development tools such as FormBuilder based on uniforms.
Another great example is the workflow management platform Onyx. Instead of hardcoding everything, we provided a solution based on the citizen development model. This new workflow management system was designed to be fully customizable by non-technical office employees. Its core feature was to be able to build any kind of form and link it to an adequate graphical representation defining business processes – roles, steps, tasks, permissions, gateways, and decision tables.
The main challenge was to smoothly substitute the former system, so the current clients and all the data stored were not in any way affected. ~ Maciej Stasiełuk, CTO at Vazco
In the long term, the automated process we’ve introduced saves time and resources, by being much more adaptive for rapid change of business circumstances. For more information on this project, go to the Onyx – Citizen Development Platform.

The possible threats of the no-code approach

There is one issue concerning citizen development and no-code software, namely security. This applies particularly to the platforms that gather consumers or the company’s sensitive data. However, there is no evidence that the no-code, decentralized platforms might be more vulnerable to data breach or theft. On the contrary, a platform code, well hidden from the end-users, doesn’t compromise security at all. What is more, the IT staff collaborating with non-IT on such a project is always greatly alarmed to security matters. That is why it is crucial to always build citizen development apps with experts.

The future of citizen app development

Where there's a will, there's a way – non-IT staff wants to build apps that solve their business problems and want to see results quickly. They can finally do it thanks to the citizen development model and the invention of no-code platforms. That approach has yet another benefit because it allows developers in a company to focus on highly innovative features. Empowering citizen developers should be in their interest as well. This is why we believe citizen development platforms will continue to grow in popularity and help enterprises grow. Fundamentally, it may trigger yet another business revolution.