Citizen Developers Are Encouraged and Are Delivering Value

“Citizen developers”—those business users outside of the IT department who design or build their own applications—are more than a small band of rebels. A majority of organizations now rely on non-IT developers for at least some of their mission-critical applications. Few companies discourage such activity, and many are benefiting from the faster pace of software releases with which citizen developers play a part. 

That’s the gist of a recent survey of 324 executives conducted by Unisphere Research, a division of Information Today, Inc., publisher of DBTA. Respondents came from organizations of all sizes and across various industries. 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. The majority of respondents, 82%, identified themselves as coming from outside the IT department.

The need for empowered business users is urgent. In today’s tech-driven economy, IT has become the lifeblood of enterprises. At the same time, it requires many people across organizations to be able to design and build applications that help move information to the places where it is needed. In essence, IT has become much bigger than the IT professional or developer—IT has become the business.

Citizen developers are already a key part of most enterprises. At least 76% of respondents indicated that some portion of their applications were developed outside of their traditional IT department or IT service. Executives and their staffs have some programming skills, but more than one in four know nothing about programming. Still, a majority have downloaded applications on their own, and close to half have worked directly on corporate websites or mobile apps.

Non-IT developers come from a range of backgrounds, but are, for the most part, power users and developers embedded within line-of-business departments building the applications. Outside consultants and line-of-business employees partake in much of this activity as well. For the most part, this off-the-grid IT work takes place on company hours, suggesting that citizen developers are accepted within the workflow. Close to half, 45%, report that all outside IT work is conducted during regular company hours.

It’s not that organizations are lacking in IT departments or trained IT talent. Most have some type of IT department staffed with at least one dedicated employee. A majority of executives, 74%, say their IT department is actively engaged to some degree, overseeing most technology-related activities.

What is driving the rise of the citizen developer? Speed of application delivery and the sharing of data and analytics are two areas in which IT support is seen as weak. Close to one-third, in fact, gave low marks to their IT departments in terms of timely delivery of software. Citizen developers 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% report turnaround times exceeding 3 months.

Citizen developers do what they do because they feel IT departments—which are usually weighed down with more critical responsibilities to keep enterprise applications up and running and secure—are too slow to respond to their individual requests. Recognizing that their IT departments are stretched to the limits, and need to focus on the big things—such as working with the overall business on technology strategy, as well as keeping backend systems humming—most organizations are on board with non-IT software creation. Only 16% attempt to clamp down on citizen development activity—more than one in four have no policy of any kind in place, while 42% say non-IT app development is allowed, or in some cases, actively encouraged.

Almost all executives acknowledge more needs to be done to provide training and support to citizen developers. However, only one-third of organizations are considered to be highly proactive in supporting their citizen developers with training and platforms.

Three types of resources have facilitated the rise of citizen developers: the rise of cloud, mobile, and open source solutions. The plethora of open source projects and offerings now available offer a wealth of possibilities for the citizen developer. A majority, 54%, turn to open source software as their first choice in building and supporting their self-created applications.

Of course, having citizen developers in the enterprise is not without its difficulties. The challenges to citizen development include issues around data security and trouble learning proper programming techniques and handling of data.

To download this research report, go here