Article | 16.2.2022

Citizen development – why should organizations be interested in it right now?

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Is Citizen development part of your company’s digital transformation? Citizen development could be a much-needed solution for companies to promote digitalisation, increase job satisfaction and reduce the workload of the IT team. Everybody is talking about it now, but what exactly is it and how can it be done successfully?

What is Citizen development?

Citizen development refers to the development work done by individual employees who do not have a coding background and who work outside the IT team. Citizen developers develop their own or employees’ work by using a variety of digital technology tools. Although the term “citizen developer” may be unfamiliar to many, they have been in work communities for a long time. They are problem solvers who see the development needs that arise in daily tasks and want to find solutions to them. Who better understands customer needs or process bottlenecks, for example, than those who work with them on a daily basis. Providing citizen developers with the necessary training and tools, to automate repetitive processes, will give employees more time to do value-added work or other meaningful work.

 

Although citizen development has become more talked about with the proliferation of various no-code and low-code applications, people interested in development have been boosting their efficiency for years, for example with the help of Excel templates and macros. Today, more and more tools are available to citizen developers, such as UiPath Studio X and Studio, Microsoft Power Platform tools, and Zapier.

 

With the help of no-code tools, a citizen developer without coding skills can implement automated workflows himself and thus increase the level of automation in the company. Training and a strong support network can enable citizen developers to use low-code functionalities and tools. Many of the tools on the market are visual no-code or low-code platforms where drag and drop modules can be used to create automated workflows, applications, or reports. For example, MS Power Platform and Zapier offer their users the ability to create both no-code and low-code implementations. UiPath, meanwhile, has launched a separate Studio X product for no-code-level users, and more experienced developers can work with UiPath Studio.

Why is Citizen development relevant and important right now?

In order to promote digital transformation, new methods to develop must be found. Both customers and employees expect companies to be able to respond agilely to the changing needs of the operating environment. Continuous development is becoming more current and in many companies, the IT team is only able to meet a fraction of the business development needs.

 

In organizations where citizen development has a strong foundation, small-scale development can be transferred to citizen developers, when the IT team’s workload is too heavy. Citizen developers are able to make implementations that have a significant impact on the efficiency of individual employees, but that may not have a strong enough business case from an organizational perspective to use IT resources. However, citizen development can make a significant impact on the meaningfulness of the work of individual teams or employees.

How to succeed in Citizen development?

Citizen development often starts from the employees’ own desire to develop and tailor their own work tasks and working methods to suit themselves. Someone may use a no-code tool to automate the storage of attachments in their email folder to a desired folder, or to create a mobile application that can be used to book a shared van in the company. Implementations by more skilled citizen developers can be very complex and might play an important role in the organization’s business processes. There are many opportunities, but succeeding in citizen development requires more than just technical tools. It requires organizational commitment, planning, and adequate support structures for citizen developers.

 

Organically generated and poorly managed citizen development can lead to a situation where IT is unaware of the implementations used in business processes and, in the worst case, no one in the company can maintain them. This may be because the organization has not been able to engage the citizen developer and that person has left the company. The work done by the citizen developer may have remained virtually invisible or its value has not been identified. If development is managed well in the company and the implementations are never dependent on the competence of only one person, such situations can be avoided.

 

Good development management starts with leadership and a strategic decision to increase and support citizen development in the company. People-oriented management and trust in the employees is key. In a company that has good development practice failures and mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn.

 

Employees must be given space to develop, but they must also be motivated to take on the role of citizen developers alongside their actual work.

How to create a strategy and structures for Citizen development:

1. Ensure adequate resourcing
2. Select the tools for development together with your IT professionals or technology partner
3. Provide a secure development environment for citizen developers, combined with the necessary systems
4. Ensure an adequate support network for citizen developers
5. Define the role of the IT or technology partner
6. Identify the strongest experts, train them, and raise them as role models for others
7. Encourage citizen developers to network, learn from each other and seek peer support
8. Provide training and help get started
9. Pay attention to citizen developers and their contribution
10. Reward thoughtfully. A good base salary works better than a stick or carrot.
11. Help staff understand the risks
12. Create a set of indicators that can be used to monitor development

 

Besides the citizen developers, successful citizen development requires the help of the entire organization. This ensures that citizen developers have the same goals as their team members and that everyone’s skills and ideas can be put to good use in development. Inspire staff to develop and help them identify their own role in development projects.

How the organization can support the development:

1. Identify native developers and make them messengers
2. Bring to the organization’s attention the results and time savings achieved through citizen development
3. Encourage other people in the organization to come up with development targets and make their own skills available to citizen developers
4. Give time to learn and experiment together
5. Enable cooperation and sharing between teams, for example by setting up a community for citizen developers

Sisua as a parter for Digital Citizen development

In addition to process automation development, Sisua Digital is also an experienced partner in promoting Citizen development. We have trained our clients’ business professionals as UiPath experts who are able to promote automation in their own organization. For example, we organized Citizen Developer training for Elenia, where representatives of Elenia’s various business units received basic training in software robotics.The purpose of Elenia’s development group, names as “the robotics farm team”, is to promote digitalization of services and to improve internal operations. Elenia had noted that the scalability of current automation development would be improved if they trained RPA developers from different departments who could automate their teams’ small processes as well as increase RPA awareness within the organization. 20 participants from different business areas were selected for the training program. In addition to supporting training and development, we also offer our customers the maintenance for the automation infrastructure created by the citizen developers.

Author: Hanna-Mari Itäkylä

This article is based on the findings of a thesis on citizen development. The author herself is a civizen developer who, with the help of Excel and SAP macros, managed to automate a large part of her work and in the time saved learned more ways to develop and experiment. The passion for development swept her away and she set out to study towards a new career. The personal experience inspired to search for answers how citizen development in companies would be utilized more and how it could be implemented in a sustainable way. In her dissertation, she built a data bank website that contains tips for both citizen developers and those in decision-making positions in organizations on how to get started in citizen development. The site can be found here

 

The thesis “Empowering Citizen Development” examines the topic from the perspective of employee experience and helps to arouse ideas about how citizen development can be successful. 

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