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Power to the people: The rise of the citizen developer

Power to the people: The rise of the citizen developer
(Image credit: Pixabay)

As the often-cited quote from American entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreesen goes “software is eating the world”. These days, nearly every company is a software company in some way. Software is used to run payroll, marketing, client relations and customer services to improve operational efficiency, drive innovation, and generate revenue.

Yet in the face of demand for applications, supply is unfortunately scarce. It’s no surprise, as IT management teams are often stretched and overworked, working on mission-critical projects and helping to keep businesses running (particularly more so during the COVID-19 pandemic). That’s why organizations are on a quest to find new ways to provide employees with access to modern applications that will help them do a better job more efficiently.

Breakthroughs in technology are helping to solve this issue, with low code platforms helping to give power back to the people. This is enabling the rise of the so-called ‘Citizen Developer’ movement.

The rise of low code

But first, what is low code? Not long ago, building an application required deep technical know-how and programming skills. Building applications took a long time. Today, through a low code platform, users can draw or speak to a cognitive interface to create an application – there is no longer a need to code it line-by-line. This lowers the barrier of entry to building applications, making the experience quicker easier for anyone who wishes to create one.

It’s through low code platforms that IT departments and business aims are becoming more aligned than ever. Workers only need an idea for an application, the platform or cognitive assistant then walks you through step-by-step and transforms it into a working application. It’s this technology that has given rise to the Citizen Developer - empowered problem-solvers from the business who have the drive to engage in creating innovative solutions.

Without low code platforms, employees who have an idea are still required to go through the IT department and need to request to IT to build or request specific applications. It’s no surprise that these requests often get pushed to the back of the line ahead of more pressing issues. This leads to the IT department getting the reputation of being a speed bump that slows progress.

It’s from this tension that the Citizen Development movement is emerging. A movement based on the idea that it’s the people working ‘in the trenches’ who have the best ideas and suggestions around how best to get the work done. And by staying with approved low code platforms, regular business users can create their own solutions, faster whilst staying within IT’s cybersecurity and compliance policies. Citizen Development enables companies to rapidly deploy solutions aligned with the aims of the business, instead of a whole integrated, architecture solution from IT.

Citizen Development and the promise of AI

In addition to general business support, we’re now seeing this democratization beginning in earnest with respect to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning implementation. AI companies are creating intuitive development environments that allow citizen developers to create powerful AI use cases by simply speaking to a cognitive interface. Users are able to simply talk to an online cognitive interface and be guided step by step to create an AI implementation that will solve a range of business problems – be it creating an IT help desk assistant able to reset passwords, or an AI customer service robot who can answer enquiries in an emotionally cognizant way. Citizen developers can build these intelligent applications without needing to understand the intricacies of Natural Language Processing or semantic memory.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that there will still be a very important place for machine learning and AI developers in organizations. These experts will remain vital to integrate AI with back-end systems so that they can access customer and product data, and provide the history and context to execute tasks independently and with the full trust of the organization. Tomorrow’s innovation, today

The line between IT and business is blurring, and that means that app development is becoming everyone’s responsibility. Citizen development is creating a new model in software and enterprise innovation. It is empowering employees with automation to solve their problems at the grassroots level and giving them the room and permission to experiment and grow.

Citizen developers' embrace of AI will shape a unique vision of the modern workplace, born from their knowledge of the business problem, specific to their organization and strategy, and factoring in existing technologies. This concept will allow an organization’s IT team to focus on bigger business targets, such as cost optimization and creating new revenue streams from the company’s data. Thanks to this new wave of technology, the digital leaders of tomorrow will be companies that empower their citizen developers to drive sustained innovation in every area of their business today.

  • Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director for Western Europe & MEMA at Amelia, an IPsoft company.
Faisal Abbasi

Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director UK&I, IPsoft. He has worked in many different roles within Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Mercury, Oracle, Kintana, Glaxo Smithkline, TNS. All his roles have focused on transforming business functions, designing strategy, execution on a global level, accelerating business outcomes that reduce cost and create revenue streams.