The rise of citizen-developers

The rise of citizen-developers

We are amidst a renaissance that is bringing about a major reshuffle in the application development process. Experiencing the renaissance of everything custom marked by an urgency to develop applications and software quickly to try out innovative and parallel things. This related parallel shift favouring the adoption of 'no-code' & 'low-code' tools is bringing forth development in the hands of so-called 'non-developers' or 'non-technical' people aka the 'Citizen Developers'

Low-code/ no-code is transforming the way users interact with the software tools. This is about enabling the democracy of the technical tools and bringing about another enterprise-level innovation. Just like the DevOps revolution that availed the IT infrastructure in the hands of the developers, low-code/no-code is enabling IT infrastructure in the hands of the business stakeholders.

The humble beginning of the citizen-developers dates back in time...

In the year 2012, John K Waters wrote, 'we're all developers now' from the perspective of a Gartner analyst's theory. And here a new buzzword gained momentum; 'citizen-developers'. A citizen developer doesn't come with the necessary technical coding experience yet is able to create technological solutions with the right amount of training and support.

The advent of citizen developers could be traced well before the terminology became popular.

Recalling a language from the 90s; visual basics? A whole lot of applications and software were designed by individuals who were not trained IT professionals. CASE tools & Model-driven development were some other approaches to make programming more accessible for the end-users. Some of the business users experimented with the command line. A lot of them also deployed the unsanctioned software as services (SaaS) also called the 'shadow-IT'. However, with the popularity of packaged solutions, we saw the gradual retreat of these low-code tools.

Some enterprises have always been willing to have a hand at creating apps and technology solutions and that hasn't been possible up until recently with IT supporting the citizen developers.

Businesses are supporting citizen developers:

Companies and enterprises across the globe are acknowledging the low-code/ no-code mode of application development. This is solely because these platforms come with the power to digitally transform their business and processes in days and weeks! Something that used to take months and years prior. The success story of low-code/ no-code is marked by a community of enthusiastic citizen developers from non-IT backgrounds.

Businesses are finding the applications quite versatile and tailored to suit their unique needs and requirements. However, developing an application or software from the scratch needs a lot of investment in terms of money and time. Low-code/ no-code platforms on the other hand come with the option to create an app with minimal or no cost and that too really quick.

Low-code/ no-code platforms empowering the citizen developers:

These platforms empower citizen developers to create the apps of their choice. These tools empower individuals from different walks of businessess to develop working applications as suited for their department or company. This is possible to achieve through limited or no training at all.

The citizen developers may start with a visual interface where they'd be able to draw an application real quick. Then they can set up rules in a visual format, bring in some data and objects etc and there we go; it's done! It may sound this simple and may not be as simple always. Nevertheless what low-code/no-code really support is building software and applications considerably more quickly and easily than the traditional methods of coding. It also enables the citizen developers to quickly reskill themselves.

Low-code/no-code platforms have been democratizing development and bringing it in the hands of the users. These users know and understand how the processes in their business work and are keen to transform them in a better way through automation. The genuine citizen developers are gaining out of the increase in demand for automated custom solutions. They are empowered to develop, maintain and deploy real-time applications that are built in a resilient, scalable and secure way.

Automation is the playing field for citizen developers. Low-code/no-code undoubtedly is the way forward for the businessess that would like to deploy citizen developers. In 2021 the low-code market grew by 23% as per the forecast by Gartner.

With the right guidance citizen developers are able to create and deploy solutions to their problems. As these solutions accelerate across the department, businesses are able to gain transformative potential. Organizations with a community of trained and up-skilled citizen developers are likely to progress and be more adaptive to future trends in a way that otherwise may not be possible.

That said we'd also need to consider a fact: we can't just adapt our citizen developers with tools and then let them be. The citizen developers will need to be enablers and self-starters with fluency in business process training. The right kind of developers and architects would need to develop guard walls around their applications in areas pertaining to data integrity, security, analytics, compliance etc. With these risks and concerns put to rest, the citizen developers can come to the fore to create leverage for the classically trained full-stack developers in companies.

The advantages of cost and time saving cannot be ruled out:

The current IT experts are not able to meet the number of development demands. With the shortage of professional developers and huge backlogs in the IT teams, the traditional model of development cannot meet up with the growing demand for solutions. No-code/ low-code apps are powerful platforms for development, saving a great amount of time and resources.

In a scenario where an enterprise decides to work with an external IT specialist, they may have to invest in a long process of developing, deploying and maintaining the app along with effecting the updates. On the other side low-code/ no-code apps developed by the citizen developers are available to use offering almost equal efficiency and coming at much lower costs. This leads to significant cost saving.

What applications/ software can be developed by citizen developers?

Deploying the low-code/ no-code platform to development, citizen developers are able to create custom software for businessess of all sizes & industries. The citizen developers can work on the following aspects of business out of many diverse fields:

a. Inventory management, safety audits, equipment inspection etc in large business setups, to improve their day to day processes.

b. Citizen developers can be the real game-changer for small business setups where they can actively create significant customer-facing applications that can augment sales and engagement.

c. In Manufacturing sector, citizen developers can contribute to the development of procurement management system, reporting software, supply chain management, logistics streamlining, warranty management etc.

d. In service sector, there is ample scope to work on the automated workflows related to service delivery like customer management front, invoicing, billing, contract management, reporting structures etc.

e. In accounting & finance front there is scope to automate processes such as profit & expense analysis, investment tracking, payroll & invoices reporting, account receivables collection etc.

f. With HR departments the citizen developers can work to build applicant tracking systems, performance management modules, employee onboarding system, training modules, payroll management , travel and expense management etc.

g. Citizen developers can support the marketing and sales teams by streamlining their campaign creation and distribution cycles along with building their customer relations channels, lead management aspects etc.

h. The consultants and freelancers can also work along with citizen developers to develop as per their unique needs.

At, present a host of F&B businessess, manufacturing sector, retail business, logistics industries, finance companies, insurances companies etc are already encouraging the talent of citizen developers to develop myriad custom apps for them.

How is India warming up to the citizen developers?

India is gradually picking up in the low-code/no-code space. We are no strangers to the concept of apps developed by the citizen developers.Low-code/no-code comes with one of the biggest IT adoption opportunities in India. Though we've seen historically,IT adoption has been somewhat gradual as it comes with huge expenses and complex platforms difficult to adapt to. This means hiring the services of consultants and vendors in the service and product model. This is liable to fuel up more expenses. With the coming of age of citizen developers, the Indian diaspora can more efficiently adopt IT in their businessess. Especially the MSME sector can adopt IT with minimal costs without having to spend a bomb on hiring dedicated coding team expertise. As per Forbes this model of development on low-code/no-code platforms can unlock 1-2% of GDP growth and can augment five million jobs.

Tooljet provides an ideal platform to citizen developers:

Tooljet is supporting citizen developers to build application across industries in weeks and sometimes days. You'd be able to automate the manual process and be the champions of change and transformation, driving productivity, transparency and efficiency. Citizen developers can use tools to build their own custom applications enabling digital agility.

Ending Note:

One of the IBM surveys reported that at least 8 out of 10 enterprises are enabling   the citizen developer programmes to revolutionize innovation and automation in their organization. Trends like low-code/no-code and the resulting community of citizen developers are likely to be a significant catalyst for the next generation of IT infrastructure. Welcome to the era of citizen developers which is here to slay! Its biggest impact is likely to be felt in the productivity of the organizations.