Development Democratization: How Governance Can Create a Middle Ground for Citizen Developers & IT


Robust governance is what will enable the use of low-code/no-code by citizen developers to scale while countering any negative sentiment.

Rules and regulations have historically been at odds with progress and innovation. But with the advent of generative AI and other technologies requiring little to no traditional programming knowledge, companies are working to balance the innovation spurred by a surge of new applications and the existing technology infrastructure and security. IT departments are tasked with overseeing this application creation and mitigating any potential risk they create—overloading an already busy department.

We’ve likely hit a generational tipping point in the workplace as more tech-savvy employees now have access to more low-code/no-code (LCNC) development platforms. These “citizen developers” (as they are often called) are business users who want to quickly make apps that bring greater efficiency to their daily tasks. While the intentions of these efforts are noble, the practice at scale is a mess – dozens of employees creating individual, siloed processes with little direction or IT oversight.

IT departments and citizen developers each have a role to play, and each side is critical for innovation, but an organization’s enduring success depends on creating clear guardrails.

Understanding the Friction Between IT and Citizen Developers?

To best comprehend the disconnect, it’s helpful to first understand the nuances. All LCNC tools are not created equal, and as the name implies, there are both “low code” and “no code” components. This means that in the LCNC ecosystem, you actually have three distinct levels:

  1. IT professionals – trained programmers with complex coding capabilities and wide-ranging scopes
  2. Low-code practitioners – those with a fundamental knowledge of code who can help streamline and expedite the workflow of professional developers
  3. No-code practitioners – business users at the workplace or departmental level where the bulk of LCNC citizen development takes place

According to Gartner, 41% of employees acquired, modified, or created technology without IT’s knowledge in 2022, and analysts anticipate that number to climb to 75% by 2027. Unchecked, this “shadow IT” can wreak havoc on an organization, resulting in anything from potential compliance violations to costly fixes or data breaches.

See also: Citizen Development is Here to Stay

Establishing Middle-Ground Governance

As with most situations, contempt is fueled by fear – IT departments are responsible for the safety of company technology, and it’s an unnerving prospect to have non-technical employees potentially building applications that might compromise that security. While establishing governance for this process might seem like a victory for IT, it’s really mutually beneficial for all parties.

Here are three ways that adding a governance layer can be antidotal to negative sentiment surrounding citizen developers:

1. Improve Communication & Optimize Workflows

Let’s be clear – governance is not a band-aid to “fix” problems with citizen development; rather, it establishes oversight to facilitate a more productive way of working. Experts define IT governance as a formal framework that provides a structure for organizations to ensure that IT investments support business objectives. That’s important to remember, and the same principle applies to citizen development. By establishing a governance layer that gives complete control to the IT team while also allowing citizen developers the flexibility to build new systems within one platform, both sides feel empowered.

In simple terms, governance is a stress reliever – IT knows exactly what’s happening and can quickly identify red flags, and citizen developers know they’re supported and can operate without gumming up the works. The ensuing dynamic validates all workstreams, leads to better internal communication, and eases overall tension.

2. Decrease Risk & Avoid Future Threats

A robust LCNC governance solution allows IT to secure the businesses’ IT perimeter by offering full visibility of every application created and its subsequent adoption. Governance also alerts IT of suspicious activity (downloads, transfers, printouts of data) and keeps a digital record of any tools used across the organization, which is helpful in spotting potential bad actors or future vulnerabilities.

Consider a car’s airbag – if you’re lucky, it will never be deployed, but when the unexpected happens, you’re going to be glad you have one. The same could be said for governance, which is designed to operate in the background until the day you really need it.

3. Attract Talent & Accelerate Innovation

Despite recent mass layoffs in the tech sector, there’s also a confounding scarcity of skilled workers. Korn Ferry describes a current trend among young professionals as “ditching the [corporate] ladder for the lattice” and cites internal mobility as a key indicator of job satisfaction. In a post-pandemic workplace, employees are seeking careers that allow them to discover new opportunities and influence change. What better way to do this than by creating an IT structure with governance that allows for this type of creative exploration?

Good leaders know that smart ideas can come from anywhere within an organization. Rather than placing limits on citizen developers, proper IT governance provides them with the support and encouragement to continue seeking unique solutions. Not only will this help attract and retain talent, but it can also open up diverse recruiting pipelines and close skills gaps during periods of stalled hiring.

See also: Why Relying on IT for Data Analytics Is a Mistake

The Future of LCNC and Governance

In the months and years ahead, we can expect a few things to happen.

Any increased scrutiny on the disconnect between citizen developers and IT departments is sure to improve relations between the groups, and it’s likely that LCNC might soon split into the more distinct paths mentioned earlier – low-code practitioners AND no-code practitioners, further defining and clarifying expectations for each stakeholder.

Generative AI will have a major impact, bringing further innovation to the citizen development process and expediting application creation writ large.

Ultimately, robust governance is what will enable LCNC solutions to scale, and the successful adoption of citizen developer applications will go a long way to counter any remaining negative sentiment.

Dinesh Varadharajan

About Dinesh Varadharajan

Dinesh Varadharajan is the Chief Product Officer(CPO) at Kissflow. He leads the product management team at Kissflow, the first unified digital workplace for organizations to manage all of their work on a single, unified platform. Dinesh is a hands-on executive with a wide range of experience working with bleeding-edge technologies, developing great products, and mentoring highly productive teams. He has profound knowledge in the design and technical implementation of BPM solutions. He was recently named one among the Top 100 Great People Managers 2020 by Great Manager Institute & Forbes India.

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