Using the innovative power of employees for automation

Using the innovative power of employees for automation

The development of applications by the employees themselves plays an increasingly important role in automation. How to implement a citizen developer program quickly and efficiently. […]

The shortage of skilled workers continues to increase in Germany and primarily affects the tech sector. It is therefore not surprising that in the field of automation, so-called citizen developers are currently the focus of digital transformation. With low-code and no-code platforms, in principle, every employee can create apps in a user-friendly way via drag-and-drop code – even without coding expertise that has been acquired over the years. Many of the applications created in this way would probably never have been developed with a pure top-down approach, even if they offer great potential for automation in companies.

Citizen developers are employees who are not actually programmers and do not necessarily have in-depth knowledge of technology. Nevertheless, they develop smaller automations for everyday processes and workflows out of their own motivation in order to simplify the work – especially their own.

In general, citizen developers are problem-solving oriented and open to new technologies and skills. One of their core competencies is that they think in a process-oriented way and independently identify deficits and potential for improvement in their working environment. After all, any working environment has repetitive processes that provide the opportunity for automation. For the automation of these processes, however, it is essential that their processing is subject to a simple logic with a few exceptional cases, and the data can be read electronically or by machine.

With citizen developers in the company, the range of tasks of IT is also changing; a paradigm shift within this department is necessary. For a long time, the IT department was known more as a lone fighter in the companies, but through new agile methods and DevOps, it gradually changed into a team player. The Center of Excellence (CoE) is also acting differently now, or has to change through the use of citizen developers.

If the CoE was previously seen as a driver of top-down automation, new tasks and functions are now being added. On the one hand, citizen developers must be provided with appropriate tools and a corresponding development framework in order to avoid the emergence of an uncontrolled shadow IT. On the other hand, the CoE should assume the role of communicator, problem solver and trainer – and thus act as a testing authority for the new solutions of the citizen developers.

As a first step, automation developers and CoE members will train and guide future citizen developers. This is done either internally via our own training courses or online learning platforms or through external training courses offered by the platform provider. In trainings and guidelines, the citizen developers have to be explained the special features of the platforms used.

Developers and CoE members should always be available as a contact person for citizen developers in case of problems and should check created automations before they are used. Such a prior review can also be used to evaluate whether the solutions are suitable for company-wide scaling. In order to ensure security for a large number of developers, citizen developers should also be sensitized in the secure handling of data in automation solutions and verifiable governance and compliance guidelines should be implemented.

With the new role as a link between citizen developer and the highest automation authority in the company, for example the Chief Automation Officer, IT and CoE will have additional tasks, but also a relief. Because the employees of the IT department can thus concentrate on large-scale end-to-end process automation in the company.

Employees – freed from repetitive routine tasks – can concentrate on their qualifications and core tasks. Your motivation and satisfaction will be increased because you have developed problem-solving skills from your own skills.

Automation can and should be proactively promoted by companies quickly and effectively via a citizen developer program. Here, the following procedure has proven itself in practice:

  • The Citizen Developer program should be understood and communicated as an appreciation and trust in the skills of employees. The company’s management must be aware that it is about significant investments, the ROI of which, in addition to faster and increased automation, can also be a closer connection of high performers.
  • The beginning is (usually) bumpy. Every employee, no matter in which function, should know that mistakes can and may happen in his new “role”. However, these must be able to be communicated quickly, openly and without sanctions.
  • The Citizen Developer program should be tested as a pilot in individual departments and with a limited number of volunteer citizen developers in a first step before the company-wide introduction. The successful citizen developers of the pilot phase are the best ambassadors for the further rollout of the program in the company. If, nevertheless, too few employees can be found in individual departments, incentive programs can help.
  • Citizen developers need a dedicated contact person who is always available and can help with any problems that arise.
  • IT and CoE must be prepared for their new role as coaches for citizen developers in the company in terms of personnel and structure. In addition to providing support in the event of difficulties, you will be responsible for the release and rollout of the solutions created in the future.
  • In order to avoid shadow IT and for the orderly implementation and integration of the resulting automation solutions in the company, a suitable and extensive automation platform must be selected and used. Good platforms not only enable the simple and defined creation of code by citizen developers, but also include governance tools for validation, approval and rollout into the company divisions.
  • All citizen developers need intensive training on the handling, possibilities and limitations of the selected platform. In addition, you should know and understand the processes of the citizen Developer program for the release and future use of your solutions in the company. Everyone must know that new solutions can only be developed via the platforms and processes made available.
  • The release of the code from citizen developers should take place in several stages. First of all, the solutions must be checked for their business benefits. It is also important to consider where these or similar solutions could be used in the company in the future. If the result is positive, the technical approval takes place, i.e. the verification with regard to the quality and correctness of the resulting code.
  • If the code needs to be technically revised afterwards, a smaller group of already experienced citizen developers can and should do this. After re-testing, the automation solution is then rolled out by the CoE according to its importance in individual departments or the entire company.

*Lars Braitinger is Pre-Sales Director Central & Eastern Europe at UiPath.

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