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Of all the buzzwords circulating in the technology sector, one of the most entrenched is digital transformation. For years, organizations have been using IT to improve their internal processes with the goal of reducing costs and improving efficiencies.

With many organizations now recovering from COVID-19 lockdowns, they're turning their attention to how digital transformation can get operations back on track. Some processes and systems that had been hurriedly put together when lockdowns were announced are now being reviewed. In many cases, making more effective use of digital tools could result in significant improvement.

A significant hurdle arises with the increase in digital transformation activity: a shortage of experienced software developers. There are simply not enough people entering the industry to keep up with rising demand. This is creating a bottleneck for some projects. The objectives may have been determined and the benefits anticipated, but work is unable to commence due to a lack of skilled staff. Unfortunately, this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

An Alternate Approach: The Citizen Developer

To overcome the skills shortage, organizations are increasingly adopting an alternative approach. Rather than trying to attract new talent, they are putting appropriate tools, endorsed by the IT department, into the hands of existing staff.

Dubbed citizen developers, these non-IT staff have technology know-how and a passion for optimizing work and can undertake a range of tasks that would previously have involved the IT department. With little or no training, these operationally-minded employees — like business analysts and ops professionals in sales, marketing, HR, legal, etc. — can successfully improve and automate business processes to drive operating efficiencies.

A growing number of sophisticated low-code and no-code development tools are making the citizen developer possible. Many offer a drag-and-drop interface to make it easy to visually map an existing process and then determine how it could be partially or fully automated.

A big benefit of leveraging non-IT staff in digital transformation efforts is that these are often the employees most familiar with the ins and outs of a departmental process. Someone who works with a paper-based or manual process every day as part of his or her job is far more likely to understand it and also much more driven to improve the process and automate it.

Related Article: Low Code Finds Its Place in the Digital Workplace

Plan Before You Leap Into Citizen Developer Projects

A range of factors need to be considered before embarking on a citizen development program, including:

  • Obtain senior management buy-in: For a project to succeed, it must have the support of senior managers. Staff members who get involved need to know they’re contributing to a bigger picture where their efforts and results will be recognized and valued.
  • Partner with IT: The best projects are ones that have internal alignment across business departments and leverage tools that the IT department supports. Before investing in software to manage and automate processes be sure to include your IT professionals.
  • Be clear about the end result: For a process transformation project to succeed, everyone involved must be very clear on the result they are trying to achieve. Beginning with the end in mind will ensure that efforts are focused on elements that ensure success.
  • Expect swift progress: If the goals are clear, those involved will want to achieve them as quickly as possible. With suitable tools in place, businesses can expect to see results much faster than if a professional development team was involved.
  • Scale up for more results: It makes sense to begin with a small group of staff working on a single defined project. However, once the concept is shown to work, it can be scaled up to include other people from across the organization. Communicate the benefits achieved with the first project and explain how others could do similar things.
  • Document everything: With the creation of multiple newly-automated processes, it’s important to keep detailed records of what's put in place in a central, real-time repository that is widely accessible. This will assist with future changes and ensure process duplication does not become a problem.
  • Maintain momentum: Low-code and no-code tools are evolving very quickly. Ensure modern tools are available that equal people’s experience of technology outside of work and helps them get the job done. This way you'll maintain enthusiasm, momentum and progress.

By embracing the concept of citizen development and empowering non-IT staff to improve and automate work, organizations can achieve significant benefits. Take time to explain to your most tech savvy employees what can be achieved with process improvement, equip them with the right automation tools, and expect great results.

Related Article: The Risks and Rewards of the Citizen Developer Approach