The Rise of the Citizen Developer: How to Engage Them to Drive Mobile Innovation

Now more than ever it is easier for anyone to create relevant, solution-oriented applications with little to know coding knowledge. Some of the individuals at your company may even be creating their own projects! It´s important to recognize the skill sets of your employees and be able to engage them in different activities. And, citizen developers are in the perfect position to build innovative mobile apps that clearly address client needs as they understand the data they work with and who will use the apps they build.

According to this 2016 IDC report, 56.5% of technology growth in organizations is coming from Line Of Business (LOB) instead of IT.

How can we get them involved in larger custom projects?

Find out who your citizen developers are and how they quickly build apps using Rapid Mobile Application Development (RMAD) platforms, and discover how to transform them from ad hoc app builders to strategic mobile innovators.

Who Might Be Your Citizen Developers?

LOB managers and employees are most likely to be citizen developers.

They work closely with the data, and know the end users for their apps. They are also often the unofficial go-to person for minor IT issues, such as a malfunctioning mouse or showing someone how to perform a custom spreadsheet calculation.

These savvy individuals are proficient with writing macros for use in spreadsheets and are often experts in office suites such as Office 365 or G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work).

What sets them apart is their initiative to identify and resolve business problems with technology.

But how do they accomplish this?


Rapid Mobile Application Development (RMAD) Platforms

RMAD platforms, aka low-code and no-code app development platforms, provide citizen developers with drag & drop tools to quickly build mobile apps.

Low-code platforms allow mobile apps to be quickly built with IT responsible only for integration of the app into business systems and IT infrastructure.

No-code mobile app platforms, on the other hand, utilize drag & drop integration into other software and services.

In some cases, a platform vendor may perform integrations based on the systems and databases selected by the citizen developer. Apps developed with RMAD platforms are released in as little as a couple weeks, with a similar upgrade/update cycle, much faster than the minimum of two months it takes for an app development team to produce a similar app.


Why citizen developers have become so important

George V. Hulme, an IT and Technology expert, contends that the "rise of the citizen developer is an extension of the consumerization of IT trend."

Indeed, citizen developers build apps that often offer a user experience (UX) similar to that of popular apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp. The functionality may be quite different, but the RMAD platforms allow these developers to build beautiful apps that are easy to use, something that's not always the case with IT-developed apps.


IT Benefits of Citizen Developers

"...the feature sets and complexity of the modern business application has grown to the point that fewer and fewer IT departments have the resources...to actually build new...applications that meets today's rich requirements and expectations."

Dion Hinchcliffe, Chief Strategy Officer at 7Summits

Many IT departments have app backlogs that stretch from a few months to a couple of years. Rapid mobile app development by citizen developers is helping reduce the pressure on IT to produce enterprise mobile apps.

Freed from the burden of producing LOB apps, IT can focus on what they are best at -- systems and backend integrations.

Citizen developed apps also boost productivity and improve efficiency, and can even improve employee job satisfaction.

With citizen developers responsible for mobile strategy, IT can largely leave it up to them to develop mobile apps for the organization as a whole. IT would then serve more in a support role that provides skills and services as needed, such as custom integration of a low-code app.

In cases where apps are built using a no-code platform, IT wouldn't be involved at all. Citizen developers would quickly build all the apps they need and launch them as soon as they were finished, freeing up even more time for the IT department to work on other projects that require their skill and expertise. 

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Engage Citizen Developers to Transform Them into Strategic Mobile Innovators

Identify the citizen developers in your organization

The first step to engaging your citizen developers is to formally identify and acknowledge them. This will be easy because they are already building mobile app solutions to solve business problems.

CTO/CIO Backing

Perhaps the greatest challenge to engaging citizen developers is getting the backing of your organization's CTO/CIO. A business case may need to be developed that illustrates the many benefits of a citizen developer owned mobile strategy.

Once CTO support has been gained, it becomes possible to begin transforming your citizen developers into strategic mobile innovators.

Communicate fundamentals of mobile strategy

Citizen developers must be trained to think in new ways about app development. Their ad hoc approach needs to be replaced by a strategic approach, one that is aligned with business goals.

Work with the citizen developers to help them gain an understanding of business goals as seen through the lens of mobile strategy. This will help them to identify the limitations of the RMAD platform(s) they use for app development, making them aware of where IT needs to get involved.

Security, governance, compliance

Focused primarily on delivering business solutions as quickly as possible, citizen developers may lack an adequate understanding of mission-critical aspects of mobile app development. Security, governance, and compliance must be considered as integral parts of the mobile strategy for it to succeed.

Citizen developers will need to think about how apps are built by asking the following questions:

  • What is the app supposed to do?
  • How will it be used?
  • Who will be using it?
  • How will the app be accessed?
  • Where will the app be used -- inside the workplace, outside the workplace, or at home?
  • What devices will the app need to run on?

This is a much different approach from what your citizen developers may be accustomed to. However, it is critically important for them to ask and answer these questions, as the answers will define most of the working relationship citizen developers will share with IT. 

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Forge a collaborative partnership with IT

The second greatest challenge of engaging citizen developers may be persuading IT to work collaboratively with you citizen developers. CTO backing will resolve some of the potential issues, but it is still a good idea to meet with IT managers and communicate the benefits of a citizen developer-owned mobile strategy.

IT managers may be relieved to hear that the burden of full-stack mobile app development is being lifted from their shoulders, replaced by situational involvement for custom integrations when needed.

Buy-in from IT managers and employees will make for a positive, highly communicative partnership that benefits the entire organization through quickly developed apps that solve business needs while meeting IT requirements.

IT-sanctioned RMAD platforms

For the smoothest, most efficient mobile app lifecycle, citizen developers should present the preferred RMAD platforms to IT for evaluation. This allows IT to determine if the platform can be adapted to meet security, governance, and compliance requirements.

An IT-sanctioned RMAD platform will include guidelines and stipulations for citizen developers to ensure that the apps they build meet all requirements.

Citizen developer ownership of mobile strategy

The key to citizen developers driving mobile innovation is to give them ownership of the mobile strategy. A single person or group of people need to accept full responsibility for the mobile strategy.

Ideally, the leader(s) should be able to articulate the vision of the mobile strategy and its benefits to stakeholders, c-suite executives, and the organization as a whole. Even within an organization, new apps have to be marketed and made available for employees to try out.

What This Means for Your Organization's Mobile Strategy

As drivers of mobile strategy, citizen developers are empowered to make a difference not only for their respective departments, but for the organization as a whole.

With the backing of your CTO/CIO and IT, citizen developers can create a strategic vision, driving mobile innovation with their LOB expertise and understanding of what each type of user needs and expects from an app.

In this interview with Search Mobile Computing, Jason Wong, a Gartner analyst, says that "...by 2020, 70% of enterprise mobile apps will be developed without IT involvement."

Sounds like a call to action for citizen developers to become the mobile strategists of the future.