IT Leaders: 5 Reasons to Encourage Citizen Development

September 13, 2015

IT leaders who “teach employees to fish” may be feeding the business for a lifetime.

Many IT leaders and even CIOs today are missing an opportunity. Their teams spend all day catering to business needs when, in fact, the business managers can and should be empowered to solve problems themselves.

There is an old saying that goes: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” IT leaders who facilitate low code rapid application development knowledge in employees outside IT greatly improve IT’s efficiency and productivity. Unfortunately, they don’t do it nearly enough and spend a great deal of their time rushing around putting out fires with the few resources they have leaving little time for more strategic initiatives.

According to Gartner’s IT Glossary, a citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.

Citizen development is possible because end-users now have the ability to build a variety of enterprise applications through model-driven platforms and cloud computing services. As long as users understand the principles behind application design and development, they do not have to learn the programming languages that were necessary in the past.

Here are five reasons IT leaders may want to reconsider sanctioning and even encouraging citizen development.

IT Demands Have Gotten Out of Hand

Most enterprise IT departments do not have enough resources to handle every request that comes in and must, therefore, prioritize by value to the overall business. This means that often, individual groups like accounting and marketing will have important requests put on the back burner while a short-staffed and overwhelmed IT group struggles to keep up. In fact, though, IT might not even be essential in developing solutions for these requests and is simply acting as a bottleneck.

IT Might Not “Get It” Anyway

Even if IT was to take on the request, who’s to say that the IT professional who accepts the project fully understands the requirements necessary to develop the most appropriate technology solution? A citizen developer who has deep subject matter expertise could use a low code platform for rapid application development to more quickly arrive at a solution that meets the department’s needs.

Plug and Play Apps Are Less Expensive to Create and Sustain

I’ve seen this first hand. IT will enthusiastically build a custom platform for a line of business, but due to user adoption issues and other challenges, it won’t take off. Such projects involve a huge amount of money that essentially goes down the drain. On the other hand, most citizen developers do not build from scratch but instead employ a pre-configured SaaS application. If the implementation doesn’t work for some reason, it’s easier and more affordable to tweak.

Line of Business Employees and IT Employees Are Not Mutually Exclusive

CIOs might assume that everyone who isn’t in IT is clueless when it comes to technology deployment. But on the contrary, IT professionals are gradually being integrated into other departments. An example of this is the data scientist hired into human resources to help make sense of talent analytics. Many employees who don’t work for the CIO are savvier than the CIO might believe. Leveraging this talent can only alleviate the IT backlog.

CIOs Can Still Be in Charge

Some CIOs perceive citizen development as a threat to their domain or authority. Understandably, they may also worry that applications growing within individual departments won’t work within the context of the larger enterprise IT environment. This is actually why the CIO role is more important than ever. Citizen developers will be most effective if IT leaders set the stage, offering governance, implementation guidelines, and best practices. Citizen development doesn’t eliminate the need for IT; it elevates it to a more strategic level.

Don’t miss Dion Hinchcliffe, widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in digital strategy and enterprise IT, as he shares his advice on this topic in, “Untapped IT Strategy: Unleashing Citizen Development,” in a free webinar, September 29.


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