woman working from home on her laptop
PHOTO: Daria Nepriakhina

The workplace is evolving quickly. Digital transformation has deconstructed old notions about the nature of jobs and the places work gets done. No longer defined simply by physical location, workspaces now serve individual and collaborative purposes. No longer confined to a department, center of excellence or lab, innovation is widespread and without boundaries. Everyone in the workplace can participate, given the right technologies and policies.

This shift to a digital, decentralized and collaborative workplace has given rise to citizen developers. To put it simply, a citizen developer is a business user, rather than a software developer, who creates IT applications that meet business needs. Cloud services, the API economy and the readily available tools that come with examples and guidance are opening a new world where anyone can bring their IT application ideas to life, enabling the rise of the citizen developer.

As corporate IT developers focus on more advanced and global projects, citizen developers can become contributors to organization-wide innovation and their projects can create efficiencies and accelerate business outcomes at both the organizational and local levels.

What Makes Citizen Developers Tick? A Combination of Business Acumen and Tech Entrepreneurship

Hailing from sectors such as sales, marketing and human resources, citizen developers offer fresh perspectives on workplace tools and how technology is used in their specific work areas. Beyond that, they also bring a desirable mix of business acumen and insights learned from independent coding and app development courses.

Citizen developers aren’t just experimenting with technologies. Many of them are making their organizations more efficient by creating bots that automate actions and improve collaboration among different parts of the business. Others are seeking useful, real-world applications for emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI). Citizen developers are equipped to lead micro-transformations of their own, contributing substantially to enterprise innovation. As a result, innovation isn’t confined to one part of the business, but is rather spread across the entire company at a more localized, strategic level.

With the introduction of low-code/no-code platforms, this trend will only accelerate.

Related Article: How the Citizen Developer Trend Powers Business Transformation 

Nurturing Citizen Innovation With Guardrails Built In

To sustain these new waves of innovation emerging from different parts of the business, organizations need the right strategies and platforms.

While citizen developers can act independently, enterprise leaders should establish policies that minimize risk and better harness creativity. A quick, but important example of why this is so important — fledgling programmers may not be aware of security and regulatory issues, and they could unknowingly expose company systems to security vulnerabilities.

IT departments and enterprise security teams must provide support and oversight to ensure newly developed apps comply with internal policies and federal regulations.

For example, IT departments can create application templates with embedded regulatory and compliance controls that automate much of the process for citizen development. Templates can also ease the process for updates and maintenance. In addition to providing these platforms, IT should also form partnerships with citizen developers to help ensure compliance and enable innovation.

Related Article: Losing Sleep Over Your Lack of Digital Policies? You Should Be

An Integral Part of the Modern Workplace

With the right safeguards in place, citizen developers can thrive as integral parts of the modern workplace for years to come. Companies that want to support citizen developers could examine the possibility of making available in-house, cost-efficient tech training that can advance innovative thinking across their organization. Additionally, IT should introduce a curation system that embraces ideas, with care, and promotes quality for the enterprise.

Citizen development is shifting the paradigm in software development and enterprise innovation. The digital leaders of tomorrow will be organizations that establish the right governance, guidelines and processes that empower their citizen developers to drive sustained innovation.