The Evolving Role of the ‘Citizen Developer’ is Explored in New Research

The expanding role of the citizen developer is explored in a new Unisphere Research report authored by analyst Joe McKendrick.

The report, titled “The Rise of the Empowered Citizen Developer: 2017 Low-Code Adoption Survey,” was based on a survey of readers of KMWorld and CRM magazines, and sponsored by Kintone.

“Citizen developers” are defined as business users—not part of IT departments or contracted IT services—who build and use their own scripts, programs, algorithms, or interfaces designed to perform business functions or support business processes.

The survey of 324 respondents found that 76% have at least some portion of their applications developed outside of their traditional IT department or IT service.

The wide range of open source projects and offerings now available offer a wealth of possibilities for the citizen developer. In fact, a majority, 54%, turn to open source software as their first choice in building and supporting their self-built applications.

Only 16% of respondents say their organizations attempt to clamp down on citizen development activity—more than one in four has no policy of any kind in place, while 42% say non-IT app development is allowed, or in some cases, actively encouraged.

One-third of organizations are highly proactive in supporting their citizen developers with training and platforms. Executives and their staffs have some programming skills, but more than one in four knows nothing about programming. Still, a majority of respondents have downloaded applications on their own, and close to half have worked directly on corporate websites or mobile apps.

What is driving this trend? Many say that citizen developers actually get applications out the door faster than large IT departments. They turn around their required applications in a matter of weeks, or a couple of months. Only 17% describe turnaround times exceeding three months.

However, there are also challenges. The obstacles to citizen development include data security and trouble learning proper programming techniques, and handling of data.

Don't blame IT staffs for this trend, says McKendrick. “They have their hands full with mandates to pursue digital transformation while at the same time trying to stay on top of security, manage data, and provision for growing workloads.”

Business users simply can no longer afford to wait for their IT departments to deliver applications or services they require to make decisions, says McKendrick. As a result, he notes, “We're now entering an era in which many users have become both creators and consumers of technology solutions."

To download the free, 31-page report, go to