What Is Citizen Development?

Citizen development is a business practice where a user — the so-called citizen developer — creates business applications for use by other people. Although they do not report directly to IT, they use tools such as no-code and low-code platforms that are sanctioned by IT.

The Rise of Citizen Developers

The practice of citizen development has been adopted by several organizations to deal with the challenges that for years have been haunting businesses and hampering their ability to innovate:

  • Growing IT backlogs
  • Dev talent drought and cost
  • Constant changes in the business environment that change faster than the software and systems that customers count on.

Citizen development is a way to relieve the pressure on IT while empowering business users with the ability to create the business applications they need without involving IT departments.

This term is often abused or misunderstood and can easily get maligned as “shadow IT”, but they are not the same thing.

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Citizen Development vs. Shadow IT

The oversight by IT distinguishes citizen development from so-called “shadow-IT,” which takes place without the knowledge or control of IT. However, simply sanctioning the work of these non-professional developers is hardly a recipe for success.

With the advent of solely no-code platforms, the line between citizen development and shadow IT has become increasingly blurred. Today, many software tools targeted at so-called citizen developers include little to no IT governance. It’s not enough for IT to simply give their blessing for the line of business to start building their own apps. They must actively lead and manage the entire process.

This siloed citizen development approach also ignores how modern teams work. Rarely do business developers build applications from start to finish with no assistance and maintain the app themselves through its entire life. Instead, most organizations employ cross-functional teams that include both business experts and professional developers creating and evolving apps in collaboration.

The Downside of Citizen Development

While the idea of giving full autonomy to business people to solve their own unique productivity challenges look compelling on the surface, a strategy that’s not centered around IT governance and that ignores how modern teams are structured is destined to fail.

Traditional citizen development or shadow IT leads to applications that are prone to data breaches, quickly orphaned when an employee leaves a company, so poorly constructed that IT must rewrite them when they become mission-critical, or all of the above.

An Alternative to Citizen Development

A “DIY” application created by business users, no matter how tech-savvy they might be, might not fully address non-functional requirements such as security, reliability, performance, and scalability. Worse, the application may not be able to integrate with all enterprise data sources.

But there is a better alternative: a cross-functional development approach that delivers the whole-team collaboration that enables organizations to capitalize successfully on developer knowledge and business expertise.

By pulling experts from business and IT to collaborate on cross-functional projects that deliver new applications, organizations can maximize the diverse knowledge and skills they possess. Gartner has dubbed this union of business and IT expertise “fusion teams” and predicts that it will be essential to facilitating agile responses to future business disruptions.

When collaborating with business stakeholders to build essential apps quickly, developers need a platform that enables them to build complete software solutions efficiently. Currently, however, many IT teams rely on tools that are ad hoc, require deep coding or full-stack development skills, and involve steep learning curves.

These barriers exclude business experts and even junior developers from making meaningful contributions to application development. An approach that includes low-code, automation, AI, and visual development, rather than code, frameworks, and libraries, can empower whole-team application development.

Finding the Right Platform Is Key

A modern low-code application development platform like OutSystems includes specialized tools that enable every multidisciplinary team member to contribute and collaborate seamlessly. Business analysts, UI/UX professionals, IT operations specialists, and even architects all have special tools optimized for their roles.

OutSystems provides the visual, model-based development features associated with low-code. The difference is the apps you build with OutSystems are not the simple ones churned out by someone who wants to put a form on top of a spreadsheet or create a vacation approval app. Instead, with OutSystems, you deliver powerful enterprise apps and app portfolios that run your business and make you unique.

For example, with OutSystems governance and impact analysis capabilities, IT knows what every application developed with the platform does. Plus, if IT wants to work on top of the apps created by business users, OutSystems provides the necessary tools to unite IT and business to expand the project.

Want to learn more? Visit our Collaborative Development page and give OutSystems a try.