IT’s challenge: Bring citizen developers out of the shadows

Rapid mobile app development (RMAD) and low-code development tools have enabled business users with limited or no programming skills to create useful mobile applications all on their own. The result — mobile apps in the enterprise are on the surge, and a lot of them are absolutely out of the purview of IT. In fact, Gartner estimated that by the end of 2018, more than 50 percent of all business to employee (B2E) mobile apps will be ones not built by enterprise IT teams’ traditional developers!

Business analysts and tech-savvy end users are playing the roles of developers within the enterprises. Mostly, the drive to self-develop and deploy mobile app systems stems from IT’s inability to delivery mobile apps quickly enough. It becomes much easier for midlevel managers and influential executives, then, to either have someone from their team develop the app, or download one from the web and post expense reimbursements against it.

Imagine how deeply rooted the shadow IT within an enterprise can become because of these practices. No wonder, CIOs find themselves scratching their heads over how they manage the citizen developer and shadow IT. In this guide, we cover strategies, methods, and means for CIOs and other business executives to establish a connection with citizen developers and align their low-code developments with enterprise IT practices.

Bring shadow IT out in the open

citizen developersCIOs would do well to realize that shadow IT (at least the part of it contributed by citizen developers) is a result of core IT’s failure to meet business requirements. IT leaders can only understand the roles, values, beliefs, working styles, and practices of citizen developers if they can devise means and mechanisms to catalog these developers and their developed apps and tools. Once you have taken stock of the artillery of citizen developer skills, you can align them to your core IT goals, fill IT skill gaps, and attune the low-code apps to security and safety best practices. The worst case scenario for IT is to only become aware of the existence of citizen developer apps when there’s something wrong. The solution — establish means of communication for citizen developers to talk to you.

Cultivate a culture of reward for citizen developers

Citizen developers are not coders by profession; they’re empowered problem solvers who understand basic technology, and know how to use low-code platforms to create basic mobile apps to solve business problems. Citizen developers comprise a force that enterprise IT has to tap, and not discourage. CIOs have a role to play here. Primarily, it’s about incentivizing organized citizen development efforts, so that the benefits can coexist with IT’s concerns to ensure compliance, compatibility, and data security. IT leaders who provide means for citizen developers to get prepaid and prefunded means for their developments are better placed to know things before they happen. Also, look to have citizen developers’ efforts rewarded by their respective departments, and considered in their performance appraisals. This motivates citizen developers to establish firm rapport and connection with you.

Nurture a culture of collaboration with citizen developers

citizen developers

Low-code platforms always had the potential to solve inter-department IT problems that were big enough for the department, but not big enough to find the prioritization of IT department. Of course, mobile apps created by citizen developers come with risks of basic security vulnerabilities. Then, these apps are mostly out of scope of enterprise wide application upgrades and security readiness checks. Additionally, a large number of such apps possess data governance challenges for IT. This is where CIOs need to address the question of small teams and business departments helping themselves with basic mobile apps to solve small business problems. IT can take the role of a mentor and facilitator for such citizen development efforts, and it’s up to the CIO to devise mechanisms that enable this. This way, not only can you align citizen developers with enterprise IT governance, risk management, and compliance practices, but you can also help identify great mobile apps that can be rolled out to other teams.

Continuity and upgrade planning for apps created by citizen developers

Just because a mobile app has been developed by someone out of the IT team doesn’t mean that it should not be supported and upgraded. CIOs need to stay rooted to idea of “IT to empower business.” The four major considerations to be addressed here are:

  • How can new features be added to the basic mobile app?
  • How can the app onboarding process be made smoother?
  • How to document the usage instructions and troubleshooting records for the app?
  • How to ensure that the app can still be supported even if the citizen developer leaves the company?

Remember, a citizen developer has a day job to take care of. He or she may be an accountant, a salesman, a knowledge worker, or a product designer. Once the app is live, IT has to plan for support.

Capture app documentation for future reference

Citizen Developers

Workers will advance through the enterprise hierarchy. There will be departmental reshuffles. Amidst all these natural changes, the citizen developer’s app will continue to be used, and business will become comfortable with it. Ensuring the continuity of the app in terms of availability, scalability, licensing, and security readiness, however, is not something that citizen developers can manage on their own, especially when they’ve left the department or the company! This is where the role of a CIO and every IT leader is to ensure that documents and logs related to these applications are safeguarded and saved where they can be accessed when needed. Your service desk’s knowledge base can be leveraged to achieve this.

Low code, high rewards

Low-code development is here to stay, and so is the idea of citizen developers, especially in enterprises with a lot of teams and departments, and where IT resourcing restrictions prevent the agile deployment of focused business mobile apps. IT leaders can harness the potential of citizen developers, and even include them in IT’s strategic roadmaps for the coming years by adopting these practices.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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