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Last year, my team of developers and architects was moved to the marketing function as part of a broader company-wide reorganization.
Developers and marketers? It seemed like an odd marriage. My small engineering team has historically focused on innovation and the use of our products to demonstrate “the art of the possible.”
We still do these things, but we’re now working alongside skilled but mostly non-technical professionals. My hope is this new virtual proximity will lead to more collaboration between developers and marketers—and create new “citizen developers” in the process.
Encouraging citizen developers
By narrowing the gap between developers and marketers, we can change the dynamic between IT and lines of business within the company.
Right now, that partnership is mostly transactional: The business requests services or applications from IT and IT works to fulfill those requests. But by embedding professional developers within the business and embracing the use of low-code platforms, we can turbocharge the creation of citizen developers.
Citizen developers tend to have limited programming skills. What they do have is deep domain expertise, which is something that professional software developers often lack. As a result, citizen developers can build solutions that quickly propel the business forward in meaningful ways.
The challenge is getting started—and that’s where folks like my developers and architects can help.
We have the opportunity to help non-technical departments understand what low-code can offer and how they can use the platform to do truly amazing things. Here are three ways teams like mine can help build a culture of citizen development within their organizations.
1. Make work flow.
First, we must acknowledge that not every business problem is well suited for low-code solutions. By understanding the distinction between citizen and pro developers, we can minimize frustration (and even make the business appreciate IT just a little more).
Although there’s no hard-and-fast rule, citizen developers generally excel at handling manual, repetitive, and process-based tasks. When these workflows are automated, the productivity gains are significant. Not only is human error reduced, but also employees are freed to focus on higher-value activities that build their company’s competitive advantage.
One tip I’ve found useful here: Look out for the Excel ninjas on your team. In my experience, that skill is easily extended into the way of thinking encouraged by prevailing low-code platforms.
2. Embrace internal IT.
Low-code development efforts thrive when there is a strategic plan in place to nurture the citizen developer flame and ensure it’s not confined to isolated projects. The internal IT organization can help develop just such a plan, so leaders should encourage their employees to build these relationships early in their low-code journey.
The resulting partnership will pay ongoing dividends. At the highest level, it can help build support for citizen development at an organization’s highest levels, all the way up to the CIO.
This is the path my own team followed when we took ownership of a “skunkworks” project. Built by two citizen developers using the Now Platform’s low-code capabilities, the app tracks customer engagement and is now part of the standard DevOps pipeline. Today, we work closely with the citizen developers to expand the app’s functionality, but within IT’s guardrails and processes and at our own rapid pace of release.
This should also assuage the fears of organizations that may have security concerns about low-code platforms. Experienced IT architects can establish digital guardrails for citizen developers, keeping company assets and data safe while putting a long-term support plan in place.
3. Transform your workforce.
Finally, it’s important for organizations to formalize their low-code training programs and how those skills can be applied to the business. Because it’s in everyone’s interest to learn and encourage low-code development, this should be an easy lift.
In fact, from a business perspective, encouraging citizen development is the only way to keep pace with the growing demand for applications. By 2021, IDC estimates there will be over 500 million apps developed. That’s far too many for central IT departments to build and oversee.
At the same time, citizen development is a becoming a highly marketable skill and should remain so for years to come. It allows employees to build a portfolio of successes with quantifiable business value, which provides all kinds of opportunity for career advancement. In time, top talent may even seek out these opportunities and the organizations that provide them, viewing low-code programs as evidence of a company that embraces modern trends and a culture of innovation.
That’s the type of company I want to work for, and it’s why my team of engineers feels at home in a traditionally foreign organization. As we embrace low-code capabilities and help our colleagues do so as well, we’ll not only see digital transformation accelerate—we’ll see our careers accelerate, too.