Citizen Development is Here to Stay


Citizen development helps problem-owners become problem-solvers, leading to a more efficient and successful company.

It is human nature to continuously improve our lives. We want to maximize our efforts in our daily routines at work and in our homes. Citizen development is the result of an age-old, ongoing quest to constantly renew ourselves and the way we live. Ever since humans found a way to share information and knowledge, we’ve built more efficient tools, traded goods, moved to a farming society, and so on. But these days we can exchange knowledge further and faster than ever before. Humans exponentially expanded the ability to make our lives easier and better with the invention of the Internet. 

When I started as an entrepreneur, one of my first customers was an insurance company. Their online channel was their premier selling channel; this was very progressive and successful in those more early days. The company was part of a conglomerate of insurance companies, and they had centralized all IT efforts for all labels in one place. The IT department was modernizing all centralized policy administrations and financial systems. Additionally, the marketing department was continuously updating the online selling channel: their website. But, this required IT expertise, and the IT department was fully booked with all the activities around merging the different labels. They weren’t available for the marketing department. Consequently, the marketing department started outsourcing their online activities for the business.

Sounds familiar? 

This story was more than ten years ago. What people needed then and now was to be self-sufficient. But in the past ten years, IT has only slightly worked on the self-sustainability of the business. Most of the time, the direction of the movement was opposite, with more control for IT and less room for the business.

And that’s where it goes wrong; it isn’t in our nature to be limited. We want to move forward and improve ourselves; this is what we’ve always done. 

See also: Why Low Code Development Still Needs Some IT Oversight

Citizen development is the answer

Ten years ago, you needed a computer science degree to develop your online channel. But things have changed. More computer power, better browsers, and technological innovations have resulted in more efficient and accessible tooling. Low-code started as 4GL languages and case management tools. Now the low-code/no-code market is at an all-time high following a 30% increase in one year. It’s fair to say that the concept of low-code is accepted within IT departments and beyond. In 2020 Gartner found that “on average, 41% of employees outside of IT customize or build data or technology solutions.”

But is low-code disruptive? 

Probably not as much. It’s the next iteration of similar concepts. As always, it’s not technology that brings disruption; it’s people. Low-code for experienced developers is just a tooling change; there is a more important trend than low-code alone. And that, of course, is citizen development – business users fixing their software problems. In fact, 54% percent of technology producers outside of IT report that about half or more of their personal performance objectives are tied to customizing or building analytics or tech solutions for work.*

Their motivation to succeed is further bolstered by the introduction of agile. This way of working has brought on the enlightened path of creating a more autonomous workforce. Less management, more power to the worker. But how autonomous are you when you need to rely on centralized IT for every test and idea? In our increasingly digitized world, placing full responsibility for all tech solutions onto the IT department is no longer a sustainable way of working. 

What is a citizen developer? A true problem solver! A citizen developer is a business person without coding experience who builds apps using a no-code or low-code platform. You can easily recognize citizen developers in your organization by searching for genuine problem solvers. They manage and analyze datasets, automate tasks, develop websites, and much more. As more of the workforce becomes digitally native, the level of technical skills and tech interest among employees outside of the traditional IT departments is also increasing. Gartner reports that “among rank and file employees, digital aspirations are high: 70% of employees are open to adapting their roles and skills to support digital business.” However, if you do not provide these innovative colleagues with the right tools, guidance, and governance, you risk creating shadow IT. 

See also: Low code: The Key to Unlocking Strategic Speed

Enter: the no-code platform

The problem with shadow IT is because IT isn’t aware of these solutions. There’s no way to govern them. This can create huge risks for the organization, particularly in areas such as security, support, and modernization. To prevent shadow IT, the IT department needs to provide a controlled environment in which citizen developers can flourish; this is what a no-code platform provides. Then, the role of IT leadership is to coach and guide citizen developers. They will require room to experiment and create solutions with real-world implications. As such, the IT department is a crucial partner who oversees access and permissions and protects security.

What do citizen development and digital transformation have in common? 

Imagine a company where you can innovate at the speed of a modern business without being held back by technology. This sounds like disruption, doesn’t it? We’re finally at the moment where we can fix this by enabling people outside of IT to quickly improve their processes, experiment, and test new products. 

Citizen development is about providing a business user with the right tools and facilities to excel. Empowering problem-owners to become problem-solvers will invariably lead to a more efficient and successful company. And, maybe even more importantly, to a happier and more resilient workforce.

Technology is ready for it: Citizen Development, the disruptive version of low-code.

* Gartner, “Democratize and Distribute Technology Work Across the Entire Enterprise to Accelerate Digital Business,” December 17, 2020.

Chris Obdam

About Chris Obdam

Chris Obdam is founder and CEO of no-code platform Betty Blocks. He's a born programmer turned Internet entrepreneur with a passion for people and a lust for life. His vision is to empower the human side of innovation and push the limits of what is possible with technology.

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