Digitally dexterous organisations and their need for Citizen Developers. New reality or vendor fallacy? Part 2 of 6

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Digitally dexterous organisations and their need for Citizen Developers. New reality or vendor fallacy? Part 2 of 6

Digitally dexterous organisations and their need for Citizen Developers. New reality or vendor fallacy? Part 2 of 6

Business today is driven by data and smart algorithms. Software developers now control the world. Across a global employee base, organisations have as much coding and technology talent as likely found in IT departments several years ago. Employees across every business are becoming more technical.

Knowledge workers, with digital DNA flowing through their veins, offer the potential for firms to combine the best of business knowledge with the best of technology. This millennial ‘digerati’ comes with the promise of cheap labour at the fraction of a full time technology professional. New entrants to the workforce no longer wait on IT departments to solve their IT challenges.

The ‘digerati’ are figuring out ways to solve their own problems and their organisation’s customers’ problems without IT help. Progressive organisations are focused on enabling the ‘digerati’ to do that and do it well using Low-code / no-code platforms.

In the next stage of the digital transformation, capable and confident individuals can be modelled to step in, where existing IT teams have failed, to meet development requirements. Capable individuals can help spark innovation and low-code / no-code platforms can help Citizen Developers explore new solutions to better serve their business’s needs.

If a finance person, a HR expert, or a customer service professional were to be able to write their own software and applications, and this was multiplied many times across different sectors of the economy, then businesses could benefit from a potential massive increase in innovation and productivity. 

If multiple individuals conceive, design, and deliver the functionality users need now; then the power of digital and automation can be unleashed across organizations. This may not only help to clear IT application or development backlogs but may also create an internal innovation engine that will drive future success.

But organisations have struggled to get Citizen Developer programs to work successfully.

“One’s dream is another’s nightmare.” Balint Laszlo Papp, Automation Advisor and Delivery Lead

What is the current status of Citizen Developer programs?

Citizen Developers, and Low-code / no-code platforms, are not new concepts. For example, WordPress has made web development accessible without the need for season web developers. Kapwing, an online image, video, and GIF editing platform, helps non technical business folk design digital stories with easy to use cloud tools that were once the preserve of specialist designers and video editors.

Yet low-code / no-code platforms don’t automatically guarantee success. Many organisations have tried and failed to build ‘Citizen Developer’ programs. Many organisations have set their expectations too high. ‘Citizen Developers’ or ‘Technical Digerati’ are still not currently writing the next mission critical ERP system for the company. However, they might just come up with a unique software solution that solves a particular business problem. 

“Citizens also automating processes on behalf of colleagues less technical, need to ensure they will have time to support these as part of their normal job function. So in my opinion, great for automating ones own personal tasks, but processes that are business critical and processes with users that remain non-technical, it is imperative to have a more formal framework. In the real world, for businesses to rely on bots with limited risk, the bots need to be well designed, stable and robust. This requires specialist governance and expertise.”

Kally Gill, Head of RPA Services

The current generation of low-code/no-code platforms were unimaginable 10 years ago. Low-code/no-code platforms give non-technical individuals the capacity to build that can automate routine tasks. The current citizen development sweet spot is for simple applications that are stand-alone, low risk and not mission critical.

As Low-code / no-code platforms develop, organisations increasingly find themselves in a world where they can give ‘digitally capable’ individuals the ability to do great things. They must teach digitally capable’ individuals how to use the tools and put the right security and governance guardrails in place to make sure the organisation is not exposed to unnecessary risk.

“The solutions and tools themselves need to natively provide controls and support for a robust operating model for Citizen Development. Governance should be a key item on the product offering of any such solution.”

Arif Khan, AI Ninja

So how can organisations stand up a successful Citizen Develop program?

1. Select the right individuals. Digitally dexterous employees need to be;

  • Technology literate – developers need to know how to define logic; understand the integration requirements of different IT systems; design around non-functional requirements; understand database schemas; etc.
  • Possess business acumen – everyone needs to understand where the business is headed. Organisational talent must develop and focus on business acumen. Everyone must be able to answer the following questions ‘What is the customer problem? What is the business problem we are trying to solve?’ Real innovation happens when everyone acts to answers those fundamental business questions.

“Bus-devs need strong business and developer skills before they start thinking about training in low code/visual tools.”

Chris McKernan, Business Solutions Integration Lead

  • Logical and organised – not everyone is capable of being a coder. Coding, decision making, and data analytics all take a logical ‘programmers’ mindset.
  • Team-oriented – knowledge must be shared in a digital world.

  • Enjoy learning – becoming a Citizen Developer requires individuals to take on new skills, learning coding styles and lots more.
  • Be innovative – technology led innovation is catapulting organisations along the digital super highway at unbelievable speeds. An innovative mindset is required to extract the best value from digital and emerging tech.
  • Swiftly and keenly adapt to new routines and changing new ways of working
  • Work with little oversight but willing to collaborate and share with others who have diverse perspectives and experience
  • Take calculated risk – life is not without risk. Individuals must be capable of taking sensible risks without betting the firm.
  • Take constructive criticism – Citizen Developers have to be able to take constructive criticism. This is especially true when they haven’t been formally trained in code development.
  • Be organised and willing to document.
  • Be curious, adaptable and excited by change

The best developers I’ve ever worked with, are those who, when presented with new technology to work with, responded like a kid in a sweet shop. The entire journey from capture to production starts and ends with them, so their enthusiasm will form the foundation of the engagement. I remember sitting in a demo with a developer recently, whose sheer enthusiasm and excitement for what he was about to show me, grabbed my attention by the scruff of the neck and pulled me deep into his demo. 

Edward Halsey, Technology Expert

  • Understand the power of AI, data analytics and other disruptive technologies and how to apply them
  • Be politically savvy – working in a global organisation takes business and political skills to successfully navigate the work environment. Office politics are a blight in most organisations and therefore, like it or lump it, individuals need to be able to navigate choppy political waters to make change happen.
  • Be passionate about their role – the ability to exude passion for development and business change is key, to get others excited by what you and other Citizen Developers are building and selling. 
  • Use varied media to communicate with others (e.g. SMS, social media, video, etc.).

2. Digital, Intelligent Automation and Data Analytics must be a top 5 strategy objective of the business. The key way to bring digital dexterity into an organisation is to put in on the executive agenda. Unless the development of digital and intelligent automation is on the executive agenda and is a key KPI at every level of the organisation, it will fail.

Executives should be the strongest advocates and each executive should sponsor each analytics use case. An executive sponsor should not only monitor projects but be made to explain the solution’s benefits, why its adoption in day-to-day operations is essential, and what structural changes are necessary to embed the solution. In addition to ensuring a smooth digital and intelligent automation rollout, the exemplary involvement of senior executives should accelerate the demolition of organizational silos.

“Companies need to involve their senior management more in tasks as this helps break down organisational silos. Most companies think of IT when they hear developer but most IT departments lack business acumen. Business knowledge is paramount for any development and with executive support, Citizen Developers can bring that knowledge to the table”. 

Freddy Harnisch, Robotic Process Automation Lead

If executives have to meet cross-functional automation objectives they will have to achieve common business goals. This should whet their appetite for collaboration. Without exemplary executive support, most business projects fail.

“The key thing about Citizen Developers is to ensure that the organisation has a level of maturity and all of the frameworks are in place to drive assurance”

Faisal Iftikhar, Global Automation Lead

3. Organisational culture must be open to change. The fundamental causes of shadow IT result from unhelpful IT departments not from Citizen Developers themselves. Regardless of improvements in technology, if organizations are unable to provide IT solutions when the business need them, then shadow IT will persist. Championing digital dexterity must be part of every organisation’s DNA.

“Digital dexterity needs support from all aspects of the business.”

Jessica Levett, Scrum Master

A digitally forward attitude and capability is something that must be present throughout an organisation for a Citizen Developer program to gain momentum.

“To get a successful Citizen Developer program working, the company culture has to be one of embracing change. You’ll need employees who aren’t afraid of change, relish learning new technology and are passionate about the idea that they will be able to automate their work, without the fear that upper management will then let go of them afterwards. It’s very difficult when you have a culture where employees are stuck in their ways and are scared of learning new technology.”

Alexander Leonida, Director and Head of Automation

4. Start small, think big, scale fast. Digital transformations are often done best with a handful of passionate people leading the charge instead of thousands of employees. To get the ball rolling, a small but highly capable, executive backed, carefully selected and diligently curated team can act a catalyst of innovative change. Wins should be publicised and celebrated. Lessons should be learned and codified for other teams who will follow rapidly behind the first wave of creative talent.

“The drive for improvement in quality, scope and scale is infectious and pushes a team to not just meet its targets, but exceed them. In the modern era of Hyperautomation the phrase ‘Think Big, or Go Home’ fits perfectly.”

Arif Khan, AI Ninja

5. Create opportunities to share well governed code by creating appropriate guardrails. The community of individuals who write their own stuff generally enjoy sharing it. Organisations must create methods, controls, systems, safeguards and opportunities which encourage individuals to share their ideas.

“No doubt there is a role for the Citizen Developer. The more folks leverage no-code / low-code development tool, the more valuable they will be to an organisation and the more rewarding they will find their jobs. However, while organisations should encourage workers they need to apply appropriate guardrails for the following reasons:

  1. Programmers are very methodical, detailed-oriented, and accustomed to thinking in terms of constructs and patterns suited for development. Most people are not, and so Citizen Developers tend to develop poorly behaved and/or integrated applications when they stray beyond simple and isolated CRUD form-oriented applications.
  2. In most cases, Citizen Developers are not aware of an organisation’s broader requirements with regard to: security, compliance, deployment best practices and reusability.

Since Citizen Developers are closer to the processes and use cases than traditional IT. They can be valuable members of the team developing simple applications and prototyping more complex applications. However, organisations that give Citizen Developers free-range over application development, are going to engage in a significant amount of “clean-up” that may make the Citizen Developer’s juice not worth the squeeze.”

Joe Labbe, Managing Director

A organisation should create a governance board that sets rules, and creates a governance process that encourages the sharing of quality code. If organisations can create such systems, and then reward the sharing of well governed code, they will be rewarded with more innovative applications and ideas.

“If you democratise development and automation, the flipside of the coin is the need for much more governance, control and stronger framework in which the Citizen Developers can operate. In the end the overall cost is the same or higher compared to a small core team.”

Devin Gharibian-Sak, Chief Solution Officer | Automation Enthusiast

Organisations are rightly attracted to low-code / no-code platforms. Executives are attracted to technology options that offer business users drag and drop intuitive interfaces that offer the possibility of; speeding up application delivery; shortened time frames to digital transformation; the solving of business problems that IT have ‘no time’ to fix; the freeing IT staff to solve more complex challenges and lots more benefits besides.

Digital requires rapid change and many business leaders now find themselves in a very uncomfortable situation. Success in the digital age will be dependant upon organisations ability to execute their digital strategies at pace. Growing market uncertainty, accelerating technology changes and rapid changes in consumer demand, are forcing leaders to have to respond faster than ever.

But getting the right, and sufficient talent to design and execute at scale is a challenge. In our next article we will continue to outline what else organisations need to do to stand up a successful Citizen Developer program to help them deliver at pace. In the next article from this series we will continue to explore how organisations can stand-up Citizen Developer programs to meet their rapidly changing business needs.


Additional articles on Digital Dexterity and Citizen Developers:

#intelligentautomation #bots #rpaworks #digitaltransformation #roboticprocessautomation #rpa #cognitiveautomation #digitaldisruption #digitalworkforce #processautomation #digitalfuture #digitalstrategy

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