Software Development

Look out IT department - the citizen developers are taking over

Non-tech workers are doing IT for themselves...
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CIOs must embrace app development outside of the IT department, according to GartnerPhoto: Shutterstock

Thought all of a company's app development work took place in the IT department? Think again.

According to Gartner, by 2014 over 25 per cent of new business applications will be built by citizen developers.

The analyst recommends IT leaders should be setting up support systems for the growing number of these end-user developers. "End-user development is where you have non-professionals - people like you or me - sitting down and saying, 'I really need this application, let me build it or let me change somebody else's application so I can build the one I want'," Ian Finley, research vice president at Gartner, told silicon.com.

The trend towards citizen development is being accelerated by factors including simplified development tools and the emergence of cloud services that can be deployed in the business without the IT department's involvement, along with the all too familiar need for tech workers to prioritise workloads.

With the IT department typically forced to focus on the big-priority long-term projects, too many application development requests are rejected due to a lack of time and resource - leading to the rise of the citizen developer.

"The problem IT has always had, and businesses have always had, is that there is always much more need for application development than there is funds and time," Finley added.

Citizen developers - the IT stopgap

By creating a citizen developer programme, the IT department can effectively create an "escape valve" for requests they don't have time for. "[IT departments can say], 'If you can't get it done through IT, here's a whole different way you can get it done. You can work on it yourself, here are the tools. We'll help you make sure it's safe and secure and that it performs well. We'll help you make sure you're not creating a mess for yourself and for us, but you do the work'," Finley said.

"What IT departments need to realise is that this can happen and it is happening and they need to put in place programmes to make you and me into good citizens. We need to be good citizen developers - not just going off and doing it in some way that is going to harm the company - so they can really get the value out of it," he added.

While supporting citizen development can seem like an extra overhead on IT, ignoring end-user developers can actually lead to more work. Left unsupported, such developers are likely to fail, with IT called in to clean up the mess.

Help, don't stifle

Finley advises that the IT department take a "partner not control" approach to aiding citizen developers.

"IT people need to set aside some staff to make this programme work. You are going to have to coach citizen developers on the best way to develop applications. You're going to have to be responsive when they have questions, helping them along the way as a sort of internal consultant," Finley said.

As the programme grows, he advises a "trust but verify" approach.

"Trust that you've taught these folks the right things to do, but verify - check to make sure the data that needs to be protected is being protected."

A good citizen developer programme should include sanctioned platforms, just enough governance, access to enterprise services and IT guidance and monitoring, according to Gartner.

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