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Citizen development: the problematic rising trend being used to address developer shortages

Hiring managers predict recruiting qualified developers will be their biggest recruitment challenge this year, with 53% of organizations increasing their budgets for the effort. Short supply and intense demand make these skilled professionals a highly priced asset. In light of the digital disruption taking hold of industries worldwide, 64% of businesses say they need to develop digital businesses to remain economically viable. However, most organizations face the same issue – a global developer shortage.

With the looming global recession, businesses increasingly need the agility and efficiency digital transformation offers. However, the shortage of developers to execute it has led business leaders to look for alternatives, which is where the rising trend of citizen development comes in.

What is citizen development? The idea is simple: train workers without coding experience to develop business process automation using no- or low- code tools. Theoretically, this approach saves on the costs of recruiting and hiring developers while also aligning development with the perspective of people close to the business side of operations.

However, this approach is not a panacea. Citizen developers have to split their time between development and other tasks, which makes growth slow and haphazard. Imagine if, in your full-time role, you were asked to also work on business process automation. How much effort do you think you’re going to be able to devote to this? Learning a new skill takes time and patience. If you’re faced with competing deadlines and other work pressures, you’re not going to take the time to think about how you could build business process automation to make some of your tasks easier and more productive.

Furthermore, how much strategy and direction would you have for this automation? When would you learn best practices? How will you handle proper governance or security concerns? Now imagine this scenario at scale. If there were eight employees, what would be more efficient: training all eight and having them each do citizen development unsupported for one hour a day, or preparing one of them to do development full time? Which would be more secure: eight employees with access to a system they aren’t familiar with or one who knows it well enough to be compliant? The same no-code, easy-to-use tools can be used to much more significant effect by training and supporting full-time developers.

How should businesses spur digital transformation during a tech talent shortage?

The answer is simple: you create your full-time developers. Most businesses have many employees, known as business technologists, using tech or analytics skills in their roles outside the IT team. Business technologists working as full-time developers work faster and see the business side – one of the proclaimed benefits of citizen development.

According to Gartner’s research, 41% of employees can be considered business technologists (this varies across industries, for example, in government, the figure is about 25%, and in energy, it’s about 50%). Consequently, businesses already have ample untapped developer resources waiting to be utilized.

How do organizations successfully democratize development?

Organizations need a no-code platform to train business technologists with developer capabilities. The training program needs to be able to accommodate those without tech-specific experience and provide a simple and easy-to-learn system. In addition, all employees should be educated on the benefits of using no-code to build business process automation. Demonstrations can facilitate better cross-team functioning and allow all employees to participate in their organization’s digital transformation journey. With this approach, employees close to the business side of operations can offer ideas and valuable insight to those on teams dedicated to full-time development.

Similarly, former business users on the development team are more likely to create optimal intelligent automation solutions due to their experiences in business operations outside of IT.

When forming a development team, businesses need to look at their existing supply of business technologists, then determine who among them is interested in training to become full-time no-code developers. Then, equipped with the knowledge, tools and resources needed, they can embark on driving home digital transformation, creating intelligent automation solutions for their business.

The development team will need guidance and direction to do this successfully at scale. An intense Center of Excellence (CoE) has driven any triumphant digitalization journey. The CoE plays a critical role: establishing best practices, outlining training, ensuring security and compliance, and offering workshops, mentorship and support. Like the development team, the CoE can be formed by business technologists, or if an organization already has an IT team, they can be turned into the CoE.

Using business technologists to drive development and fill the CoE, any existing IT team members can focus on more complicated tasks. The speed and ease of no-code also mean businesses realize the productivity gains and competitive advantages of digital transformation faster. Employees across the board also gain job satisfaction, as all benefit from the support digital workers provide. In addition, those who have moved into development roles enjoy a new career trajectory filled with growth opportunities.

The benefits of no-code development

Many organizations have attempted to digitalize through citizen development, only to backpedal once they realized its ineffectiveness. In the meantime, organizations can reap the benefits of democratized development by investing in business technologists they have at their fingertips. A financial services customer of ours, which offers credit card, online banking, and loan services, developed a centralized CoE to support satellite CoEs in each business unit. The satellite CoEs comprised business technologists trained to use a no-code platform. With this digital transformation approach, they have managed to give one million hours back to the business.

An internal, no-code-based approach to automation lowers the cost and time required to produce results. The more processes an organization automates, the more significant the productivity and revenue gains. No-code services these goals by reducing the time, cost and effort needed to bring them to the fore. Choosing the right solution is vital for this vision to come to life. A no-code automation solution should take advantage of the best-advanced automation technologies, including robotic process automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc. Such technologies can help mine processes for automation and pre-build some of the automation, saving on average 40% of the development time. They can also—test automation and monitor and help maintain them once they’re up and running.

This form of democratized development addresses citizen development issues and the developer shortage. It drives results in a timely and cost-effective way, prepares businesses for the future, and leaves workers happier and more productive in the workplace.

Dr. Lou Bachenheimer, CTO, Americas, SS&C Blue Prism


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