Why Citizen Developers Can't Replace Skilled Developers

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Why Citizen Developers Can't Replace Skilled Developers

Low-code programming and RMAD have solidified the position of the citizen developer, but what do they lack that skilled devs have?

· Agile Zone ·
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The rise of low-code programming and rapid mobile app development (RMAD) platforms have made it increasingly possible for anyone, from a marketing manager to a sales rep or a business analyst, to develop their own business apps without any coding background or IT training. Known as citizen developers, these enterprising employees aim to take some of the pressure off overstretched IT departments by devising their own technology solutions.

As Gartner put it, “We’re all developers now.”

Many businesses view citizen app development as a possible answer to their agility problems. Citizen developers often achieve quicker turnaround times than IT can provide; more than 60 percent can churn out a new app in less than two weeks. Citizen development activities are already taking place within 50 percent of businesses—whether they’re aware of it or not—and Gartner predicts that seven in 10 large enterprises will have formal policies in place by 2020.

But just because anyone can develop an enterprise app doesn’t mean they should.

Businesses need to be careful about how they harness this growing trend. Otherwise, citizen development could become the next IT nightmare, says CIO Isaac Sacolick.

Citizen Developers Lack Essential Know-How

In many companies, even employees with minimal tech expertise are now building their own enterprise apps. For example, one study found that 97 percent of citizen developers had only traditional word processing and spreadsheet skills, while just over one in three had front-end web development skills, and only 8 percent had coding experience.

And while coding skills may not be a requirement anymore, it doesn’t mean that technical skills aren’t necessary.

In today’s enterprise environment, applications don’t run in isolation. They rely on data from complex systems such as SAP, Oracle, and ServiceNow, and they need to be able to efficiently integrate with these and any other systems to function. Citizen developers must have enough technical know-how to create those integrations, as well as a thorough understanding of fundamental processes, data structures, and business logic—yet most of them don’t.

“Citizen developers are only concerned with their immediate environment, looking at the problem that they are trying to solve so they can do their job, rather than seeing it in the context of the wider IT ecosystem,” says CTO Michael Allen. “This opens up a number of questions: Who will support the application? What other tools will it need to integrate with? If there are bugs or problems (which it is more than likely there will be), what will the wider impact be?”

When inexperienced developers get their hands on low-code or no-code tools, they often find themselves unable piece it all together, leaving a mess for IT—or worse, a costly consultant—to clean up. The end result can cause more problems and create more work than if IT had simply written the app in the first place.

That’s why 60 percent of business and IT leaders identify business process modeling as a crucial skill for successful citizen development, and more than half believe it’s important to have a solid understanding of relational databases and data modeling.

“Opening up citizen development does not automatically mean that every employee can or should be empowered to be citizen developers,” Gartner says. “In addition to having the desire to build apps, employees must also have the aptitude and training to become productive citizen developers.”

Citizen Developers Need IT Governance

For better or worse, citizen developers appear to be here to stay. However, enterprises shouldn’t just put tools into their hands and let them run with it. That’s a mistake.

Most citizen developers “need help along the way,” says product evangelist Dan Juengst. “They’ll need tooling within the platform—tutorials, documentation, guides, and help systems that will help walk them through the process of building an application.”

Without a formalized citizen development policy to establish a partnership between developers and IT, at least 50 percent of enterprises will grapple with substantial data, process integrity, and security vulnerabilities by 2020. Communication with IT is essential to ensure apps are successfully integrated into the enterprise ecosystem.

Yet fewer than 20 percent of top global enterprises have a collaborative citizen development strategy in place. Just 16 percent of IT departments are fully involved in citizen development, and 36 percent provide back-end support only. Fewer than 10 percent of IT leaders even bother to track basic KPIs like how many citizen developers they have, how many apps are being built, and how many people are using them.

Without IT involvement, citizen development becomes more akin to shadow IT, opening the door to potential security and compliance risks as well as reliability, maintainability, and scalability challenges.

Instead, IT needs to discover ways to work together with business users and citizen developers to build apps that will meet the process, data, and workflow needs of employees. While citizen developers and business users are uniquely capable of identifying pain points for completing their workflows, only IT has the knowledge and skill to create simple apps that streamline processes while delivering secure, personalized experiences.

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Published at DZone with permission of Natalie Lambert , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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