Software

'Citizen developers' are ready to fill the gaps in enterprise applications

A new report by Intuit QuickBase outlines the state of citizen development and how it's changing the way businesses approach applications.

Image: iStockphoto/StockRocket

As the lines continue to blur between IT and business users, the enterprise is seeing a rise in a new class of employee: the citizen developer.

Research firm Gartner describes a citizen developer as "a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT."

While these users are not formal software developers by profession, there is still contention over how much coding skill one could possess and still be considered a citizen developer. Still, there's no denying that the trend is growing. Gartner's Citizen Development is Fundamental to the Digital Workplace report predicts that 70% of enterprises will have citizen development policies by 2020.

The further explore the trend of citizen developers, Intuit QuickBase surveyed 148 professionals who identified as either a citizen developer, or as an IT professional who had supported a citizen developer. On Tuesday, they released the results in their State of Citizen Development Report.

QuickBase is a business unit within Intuit that's been around for about 15 years. It provides platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for both SMBs and enterprise customers. QuickBase focuses on low-code or rapid application development platforms for people with any developer skill set, and can be geared towards citizen development. Other examples of low-code, citizen development platforms include offerings from giants such as Salesforce, as well as offerings from companies like Appery.io.

John Carione, product marketing manager at Intuit QuickBase, said the initial surge of citizen developers stems from a backlog in IT and a crisis in app delivery.

"On one end, IT hasn't been able to completely support the needs of the business and aren't able to draw down quick enough off of that application backlog," Carione said. "And the business, in many ways, with the advent of SaaS and cloud has tried to circumvent IT and go at it themselves."

According to respondents, most organizations are using low-code platforms to better their operational efficiency, with 76% listing that as their main reason. The second reason, with 13%, was business agility, and 8% said employee productivity.

From a CIO's perspective, Carione said, they need higher ROI from application development and delivery. Many times, citizen developers are a lower cost option in the application development process.

Although, all of this still depends on how mission critical the application is and the balance between what the IT developer brings to the table and what the citizen developer brings. The key being that "citizen developers need to have a seat at the table," Carione said.

When it comes to what constitutes a citizen developer, Carione and his team believe that the true citizen developer has no coding experience, and the responses reflected that.

  • 97% had traditional word processing and spreadsheet skills
  • 36% had front end web development skills in HTML, CSS, Javascript
  • 8% had traditional coding skills in Java, .NET, Ruby, PHP, C++, etc

Citizen developers can also help speed the time to market. Of those surveyed, 62% took less than two weeks to develop an app, 27% took 2-4 weeks to develop an app, and 13% took more than a month to develop it. This was one of the most surprising statistics to Carione and his team, as they knew it would be a faster time to market, but they didn't think it would be that much faster.

That begs the question of just what kind of apps these developers are building. Being that they are business users, the citizen developer can help eliminate the "telephone" problem of communication breakdown between business and IT. They know what features they need to solve their business problems and they build apps accordingly.

  • 65% build "get work done" apps
  • 42% build "run the business" apps
  • 27% build "delight the customer" apps

Additionally, Carione said Intuit is seeing folks that use legacy systems have the citizen developers fill the gaps in those systems. According to the report, citizen developers are also regularly responsible for developing the "last mile" of an application that was initially built by IT developers.

However an organization views citizen development, it carries a distinct potential to further unite IT and the business it supports. Of the respondents, 68% said they worked with someone outside of their functional area in building their apps, which proves an interesting potential for collaboration.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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