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Can every employee become a citizen developer?

April 21, 2021

There are four key principles companies must consider and define when determining how citizen developer framework might impact them and their employees so that it can co-exist with the existing Intelligent Automation Center of Excellence (CoE).

Removing the bot bottleneck

Traditionally, the Intelligent Automation (IA) CoE has been responsible for building bots and laying out the governance framework for automation build. Experienced developers follow these defined guidelines to build attended and unattended bots for use in the enterprise.

To automate a workflow, a business user typically needs to submit a request to the Automation CoE, which goes through a discovery and feasibility process and, if approved, is added to the existing book of work. Depending upon how full the book of work is, it might take a couple of weeks or even months for the workflow to be automated. This has proven to be a bottleneck for business users and application managers who are keen to quickly take advantage of automation capabilities.

This is where the citizen development concept can help organizations expand their automation reach. How? By empowering business users to automate daily tasks, thus improving business efficiency.

Let’s take a look at the framework and key principles required to make it a success!

Who is a citizen developer?

A citizen developer is a non-professional developer and business user who has little, or no coding experience yet is able to build bots through no-code and low-code programs. Citizen developers have a thorough understanding of business needs and, with varied coding experiences, use this knowledge to build bots that typically automate tasks that are high volume, repetitive, or rule based. These bots carry the benefits of being highly efficient, auditable, recordable, and scalable, with minimal processing errors, e.g. bot-to -fill timesheet every Wednesday.

The citizen developer framework has been steadily gaining traction in the last few years through the increase in software awareness and digital transformation. Intelligent Automation (e.g., Robotics Process Automation) has accelerated digital transformation and helped companies create a digital workforce that fuels end-to-end automation.

When compared with an Intelligent Automation CoE, the citizen developer framework is primarily driven as a bottom-up approach. Traditionally, IA bots have been built by the Intelligent Automation CoE with experienced developers. The citizen developer framework disrupts this status quo by promoting independent development.

Four key principles to consider for an IA citizen developer framework

The Intelligent Automation citizen developer framework should comprise the following four principles: Organization, Governance, Change Management, and Work Culture. All four must be considered when evaluating the impacts of the IA citizen developer framework on employees and the organization. They are meant to serve as a guide for anyone who is looking to implement this framework and assess their company’s capability to manage this change.

Principle 1: Organization

The citizen developer framework needs to co-exist with the existing Intelligent Automation CoE, which typically comprises experienced developers. On the other hand, any employee in the organization who possesses the aptitude and inclination can become a citizen developer, irrespective of their coding experience. However, a framework needs to be defined to ensure the success of every citizen developer.

Among other things, this framework should define the minimal starter training required for new citizen developers. Setting the level at which citizen developers can reach is vital for promoting clarity and focusing efforts. In some cases, the line between citizen developers and experienced developers needs to be identified to prevent stepping over boundaries or confusing scope responsibilities. At other times, there is no reason to draw this line. With proper guidelines on the governance of development, citizen developers should be encouraged to keep the bots simple and focused on improving their personal work tasks. Scope may be limited to the development of bots using pre-approved technologies meant for personal use and constrained to a single desktop or up to the entire department. With proper review and approvals from the CoE, these automations can be modified to scale firmwide.

Principle 2: Governance

The citizen developer framework adds a new layer of intricacy and complexity. Likewise, there must be special personnel responsible for identifying which bots are approved and deployable beyond local desktops. The Intelligent Automation CoE is best suited to assume this role and can serve as a liaison between IT, HR, and the citizen developers. Its responsibilities might include laying out the scope for deployable technologies and uses, determining the standards for bot types, and maintaining the bot bank. During the development phase, technical assistants can guide citizen developers to ensure the scope, quality, and regulations are met.

Consistency and standardization stem from governance. As such, there must be frequent communication between the bots, the system they rely on, and the developer to maintain the reliability and efficiency of the existing bots. If there are any software and program changes or updates, corresponding bots must be updated accordingly. Security will be another key factor in governance as personal bots will be located on desktops where there is a low security risk. Yet, public bots may have more access to wider areas of the company and will need more security and guidance before being deployed.

Principle 3: Change management

Managing change can be a difficult path to navigate, especially if you’re faced with some departments, managers and even individuals that are reluctant to do things differently. Identifying those people resistant to change will help to steer your change management efforts and what to consider from their perspectives. Focusing your efforts to alleviate their concerns will be key. Companies need to evaluate if employees chosen to be citizen developers have the right skills and capabilities to create bots efficiently. Training should also be a top priority to ensure developers understand the target operating model, ways to utilize the platform, type of resources to be developed, and the standards and quality the bot must achieve to be approved.

There are many opportunities for automation beyond what is doable or is currently being implemented by your CoE. Companies that work to create a successful citizen developer culture can help increase resources to tackle personal and department tasks as well. Since citizen developers focus on easier day-to-day process, they can develop simple bots much faster compared to the complex bots that take longer time through normal development. This allows employees to develop new skill sets and empowers them to think and share ideas with each other on the possibilities for automation. Automating repetitive task can free up more time for them to tackle other intensive tasks and learn or be trained in other areas of their job. As well as being rewarding and engaging for the citizen developers themselves, this can be beneficial to the company.

Principle 4: Team culture

The citizen developer framework is bottom-up driven. This means that employees are the main motivators to encourage each other to become a citizen developer. Thus, the main drivers will be peers who have benefitted from the success of citizen development. Companies can also promote collaboration between employees to facilitate new intelligent automation ideas by offering innovation challenges that require both knowledge sets and an understanding of the department’s needs. Empowering employees to grow their skills can increase their personal satisfaction. Through successful bot development they can become advocates of this new framework and work culture.

Despite the advantages, there are certain challenges to citizen development that need to be considered as well. Becoming a citizen developer can bring psychological stress to the employees in several ways. No one wants to be associated with a failed bot and employees may feel discouraged in such a scenario. Also, bots can handle tasks quicker and employees may need to be upskilled, which can lead to fears about job security. But these areas can be addressed with the right culture and help from the CoE. The CoE will be involved in approving, developing, deploying, and maintaining steps to ensure that the bots deployed are in scope of what citizen developers can accomplish and meet the standards and qualities for use. To help mitigate some of these challenges, the Intelligent Automation CoE can make decisions on which proposed bots are in scope for development through citizen developers and which should be assigned to experienced developer.

Empowering citizen developers

These four principles are the building blocks that will help organizations balance their growing needs for automation. Moving forward, we believe that companies will need to start investing more energy and efforts to help sustain and drive the future culture for citizen development in order to expand Intelligent Automation capabilities at large scale.


Wolfgang Enders

Head of Intelligent Operations & Corporate Functions, Capgemini Invent NA