Skip to Content

Turning your business stakeholders into citizen developers


We live in a cloud-native world, and the next generation of workers are digital workers. They are much more comfortable with tasks that have typically been taken care of by the IT department, and many – particularly the newest members of the workforce – actively do not want to depend on the IT department for standard, day-to-day tasks. At the same time, IT leaders managing large programs involving cloud migration, digital transformation, or version upgrades often find themselves with limited bandwidth to support the miscellaneous requirements of the business, such as the legal team needing a system for the contract-approval process.

Enter citizen development. A citizen developer is a business user, outside of the IT department, who creates applications using IT-sanctioned tools and processes. While, in the past, end-user development was limited to a specific set of solutions (for example, Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access), citizen development extends these capabilities outside of the IT team.

IT departments once focused on finding ways to limit “shadow IT,” where business users leveraged non-IT-sanctioned technology and processes to accomplish their objectives, as this led to custom applications with little or no IT visibility. But a cloud-native talent force, influx of new tools, and the transformation focus for CIOs means that the time is right for citizen development. The difference between shadow IT and citizen development is that the latter is IT-sanctioned, with full IT governance support and oversight.

Citizen development is enabled by a range of new tools that allow for no-code or low-code work that is fast, simple, and doesn’t require advanced skills thanks to configuration-based design and drag and drop deployment. For example, a citizen developer on the data-science team may use no-code data analytics tools instead of relying on IT to do the work. The same goes for a member of the finance team creating approval workflows.

But citizen development isn’t as easy as turning on a switch. It requires careful planning and consideration to be successful. Here are the four factors organizations need to consider to successfully take advantage of citizen development within their organizations:

  • Select the right candidates for citizen development: Not every application is right for citizen development. Candidates for this approach should be applications that meet the day-to-day needs of the business without being too complex. For example, an internal survey would be a good candidate for citizen development, while customer-facing B2C portals with high UX standards might not. It’s about striking the right balance between areas that IT needs to control and where the business would benefit from more freedom and flexibility.
  • Choose the right tooling: One of the biggest challenges an IT leader will face in rolling out citizen development is selecting from the growing range of tools. Executives need to align with domain leaders and make an assessment based on capabilities as well as technical features like portability, extensibility, and responsiveness.
  • Create a governance structure: The most important key to the success of citizen development is having a governance structure in place. Governance is the only way to empower the business without running into the issues historically associated with shadow IT, like data security or uncontrolled use of unapproved applications. The best way to build governance is by creating a center of excellence that trains your teams and establishes processes, roles, and responsibilities and strikes the right balance between flexibility and control.
  • Put the right enablement team in place. It’s critical that IT put in place a support team for business users. This team should both drum up interest in citizen development and create a citizen-development-friendly culture while also enabling the business through training, the identification and validation of use cases, and ongoing development support.

When done correctly, citizen development pays off. For example, after we helped a leading manufacturing company enable citizen development, business users benefited from faster turnaround while IT saved more than a hundred thousand hours in development effort.

Gaurav ShuklaAuthor Gaurav Shukla
Director, Apps NA ACT