Citizen Developer: Software Development as Self Service

Citizen Developer: Software Development as Self Service

Citizen developers and self-service portals can make software development more agile and innovative. Read how. […]

Improving processes, developing new solutions – employees are increasingly taking on such tasks on their own. You actively design processes and continuously develop your fields of responsibility. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), intelligent workflow management or low-code and no–code platforms make such self-services possible, so that technologies and progress in the company are no longer reserved for a few employees, but are open to all.

Clearly defined workflows and responsibilities ensure that safety and compliance requirements are guaranteed at all times. More freedom of design and decision-making for everyone to the benefit of the entire organization – a development that is becoming increasingly prevalent in German companies, as an Accenture study found: For 85 percent of managers, innovations can be driven forward in the future solely through more company-internal democratization, because this is the only way that companies will have the chance in the long term to play a decisive role in shaping the change and future of their industry.

Many software providers have already recognized this trend and are promoting tech democratization not only for all employees, but also with the involvement of their customers. For example, by providing this easy access to modern methods and technologies such as low code and no code. This means access to software development platforms and tools with which employees can develop their own applications intuitively and quickly via graphical user interfaces. With No Code this is possible without programming knowledge, with low code moderate developer know-how is required.

No-code and low-code solutions recently proved their strengths during the pandemic: Many companies have used this phase to digitize processes – because employees switched to the home office or new business models were in demand. The aim was to quickly establish remote workstations, virtual onboarding processes or new delivery apps for retail and gastronomy. The need for additional digital processes exploded almost overnight, but not all IT departments were able to keep up with this pace. The result: Especially in recent months, the backlogs in the agile teams have become more and more bloated – long task lists that now have to be laboriously processed.

In order to relieve IT, the use of low- or no-code tools is recommended. Preferably in tandem with robot-assisted process automation (RPA). A technology that, according to Gartner, “90 percent of the world’s large companies will use in some form by 2022.” This allows users to automate and digitize their work steps themselves. An example: If it often took several weeks before IT could map new requirements of the departments, this can be achieved within a few hours with low-code and no-code platforms and RPA. This approach is closely based on the so-called citizen development.

Citizen developers are tech-savvy employees who independently develop applications for their department. Since they usually have no IT or programming skills, they rely on simple and intuitive tools. As a rule, these are low-code platforms with which new apps can be created according to the modular principle. The advantage: Citizen Development makes not only the users, but the entire company more flexible.

Companies that want to work with citizen developers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • How can employees and departments best communicate the methods and tools of low code/No Code?
  • How will all compliance guidelines – for example regarding data governance and security – continue to be complied with?
  • How do IT and Citizen Developer work together fluently?
  • How do companies ensure the necessary transparency to avoid shadow IT and data silos?
  • What needs to be paid special attention to when integrating new apps and bots into the existing data and system landscape?

Citizen Development thus enables employees to develop, introduce and operate their own apps or bots at any time. This brings several advantages: App development can be scaled, IT no longer becomes a bottleneck. In addition, citizen developers know the requirements of their department in detail, so they know about the current needs of their colleagues. Enable companies to install their own digital processes, relieve their IT department. Small-scale orders from the specialist departments are now passé for the full-time developers. Instead, they can further develop important core processes and help to make the company more innovative and future-proof. Not infrequently, professional developers even resort to low-code or no-code tools themselves to speed up programming.

To make life easier for both traditional developers and citizen developers, pre-built content can be used. These can be, for example, predefined process templates or bots that can be integrated directly into existing systems. Such solutions are often based on best practices and have proven themselves as industry standards. When companies bring their pre-built content into business networks or marketplaces, they can use it to create and market new business models.

As part of an increased use of citizen development, companies should define exactly where IT remains on board:

  • How extensively do specialist departments have to inform IT about new apps or bots?
  • Where does IT need to be integrated and where is it no longer needed at all?

Decision-makers are well advised to promote democratization and self-services in an orderly manner in order to avoid shadow IT, app proliferation or data silos and at the same time ensure IT security, data governance and compliance. You also need to ensure that new apps do not negatively impact infrastructure performance. In practice, so-called Citizen Developer Centers of Excellence have proven themselves. Employees can be trained and certified in them in order to be able to create compliant apps or processes for their area. In order to divide the tasks between IT and citizen developers, the analysts at Gartner recommend the following procedure:

  • Companies should clearly define which business processes the departments are allowed to digitize with their own apps or bots.
  • When it comes to cross-company concerns, the IT department should always be involved, supervise the app development and in some places also be able to help shape it.
  • If critical core processes of the company are affected, as usual, only IT develops all necessary digital apps.

In principle, there are no limits to self-services in software development. With self-developed apps, for example, finance departments can better control their invoice approvals. If an invoice cannot be assigned to an order, it must be viewed, reconciled and released by various employees. Previously, the teams usually sent such invoices by e-mail. Thanks to a new, self-designed digital solution, the open items can now be processed and released with just a few clicks.

Another example: Larger companies use digital platforms to procure office supplies and services. However, for rare, expensive purchases – such as a new kitchenette for the canteen – there is usually no fixed process. To apply for such projects, many companies still work with Excel sheets. This complicates the coordination and provokes many errors, since the employees have to send the file back and forth and check all information in confusing tables. With RPA, the department can digitize the process and make it available in an app company-wide, so that investments can be applied for quickly at any time. This saves time and ensures transparent insights for all parties involved.

*Christian Mehrtens has been Head of the SME Business Unit and Partner at SAP Deutschland SE & Co. KG since August 2017.

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