Citizen developers present a great opportunity for organizations to address their application development skills gap. Considering the shortage of professional developers today, it can be extremely challenging for them to create or modify essential business applications in a timely manner. To make matters worse, the breakneck pace that businesses are performing at today is not likely slowing down, which means the demands on the limited number of developers that exist will certainly grow. The best way to respond to this skills gap and accelerate the productivity of application development is to tap into an often-underutilized pool of talent – citizen developers. However, many organizations are struggling to do this.
That’s why bpm’online made this a main-stage topic at its ACCELERATE event in Boston (May 3-4, 2018). John Rymer, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, directly addressed this issue in his presentation “Accelerate Your Digital Transformation.” His tips are below:
1. Take Inventory of Your Citizen Developers
His first suggestion for organizations is to take inventory of their citizen developers and their level of expertise. For example, if you have some Microsoft Excel wizards on your team, they could add a much-needed skillset. “Are they data scientists? No. But they can do data modeling. Some of them can do some pretty adventurous things,” Rymer said.
Many people build web applications in their spare time for a variety of personal reasons – their church, a community group, or other personal reasons, he stated. "Then you’ve got all these people who have experience with [IBM] Lotus Notes, SharePoint, and they’re really smart about content and about channels, and so forth,” he added.
Once you've assembled your team, assess their skill levels. Ask your citizen developers about their development skills and how they use them professionally and personally. By evaluating the background and skillset of your citizen developers, you should be able to figure out what they can do and how to put their skills to good use.
2. Centralize Your Development Environment
Rymer stated that more than half of the companies surveyed by Forrester claim their developers work in “highly decentralized” environments. Developers who bring in their own platforms create a “red flag,” he warned, because it negatively affects collaboration and integration efforts. “We certainly want to empower people, but we need coordination, as well,” he stated.
3. Provide Support for Citizen Developers
You might have a bright team of developers, but even the best teams need support. They likely won’t know how to run software projects. They also won’t know about government regulations or security protocols that apply to the project. That’s why Rymer suggested that organizations “promote teaming between your IT groups, your technical community and your citizen developers." The best way to do this, he added, is to assign an IT person, or team, that is dedicated to supporting a single department.
The IT team member can manage the installation of the platform and, perhaps with support from the IT security and the identity and access management team, the IT person can take care of the necessary IT security and access management issues. Rymer added that the IT professional should provide some direction on how the team should design the forms it will use, and the conventions they will put into place to make it possible to manage. The business people, on the other hand, prioritize and manage the projects and evaluate what works and what doesn’t work.
4. Empower Citizen Developers with a Low-Code Platform
If you’re working on business process automation and you're serious about adding citizen developers to your development team, then consider a unified low-code platform. “It makes sense. It’s just a better way to do this work, because you can deliver faster, you can learn, and apply your learning to changes – a very, very positive thing,” Rymer stated.