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Nurturing your business’ citizen developers

With enterprises increasingly struggling to locate skilled developers, what if the developers your business needs are already in your company?

Seeking out developers is increasingly difficult for many businesses, especially considering the widening digital skills gap. Evolving the technical skills within your own workforce, therefore, could resolve an immediate need while delivering technical resources that could transform how your enterprise innovates. The low-code or no-code citizen developer is here – and could be hidden within your company. The ideal candidates are people who embrace change and might be the first to try new digital applications or services; they don’t shy away when new business tools are introduced. With most developers suffering from burnout, too, cultivating citizen developers is a timely ambition.

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In its Technology Vision 2020 report, Accenture highlights a trend it calls “post-digital people”, with the research stressing the need for technologies to become more humanised as businesses change the way they use them. “Digital technology is evolving from an advantage to a basic expectation – and yesterday’s best practices are turning into today’s shortcomings,” the report says. The research concludes 76% of business leaders believe they need to re-engineer how people and technologies are bought together. In the context of businesses redrawing digital transformation roadmaps following COVID-19, boosting technical skills across the existing workforce has powerful potential.

“Across our global membership network, we’ve seen businesses from all sectors turn to the citizen developer movement as a solution to address the ongoing digital skills gap,” says Ashwini Bakshi, Project Management Institute (PMI) Managing Director for Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. “The uptake of digital transformation has accelerated at a rapid rate as a result of the pandemic and, unfortunately, many organisations are struggling to keep up. Citizen development can help bridge this skills gap by encouraging employees to take an active role by embracing no-code or low-code platforms.”

Build your own

Waiting for IT teams to build the tools and digital services a business needs is no longer as viable as it once was, given how thinly they’re being stretched. If expanding an IT department through traditional recruitment isn’t possible, then business leaders must look elsewhere and, more specifically, inwardly.

Indeed, a variety of coding tools that have become available recently allow anyone to create bespoke applications, according to a spokesperson from software firm Mendix. “Low-code platforms provide companies with a visual, drag-and-drop approach that empowers non-technical staff to design these critical applications, in collaboration with and under the supervision of IT,” the spokesperson tells IT Pro. “This allows businesses to quickly deliver digital solutions that immediately support their strategic needs while enabling the IT department and other divisions to work in a more agile and collaborative manner.”

Founder and CEO of Supermums, Heather Black, is using the citizen developer model to evolve how organisations and individuals innovate and push their entrepreneurial ambitions. “Supermums has helped create thousands of citizen developers and relaunched and reimagined the same number of careers,” she claims. “One such career-changing mum is London-based Divya, who used to be a secondary school Spanish and Chemistry teacher until COVID-19 hit and she harnessed the power of digital to relaunch her career. She now works as a Salesforce administrator at Advice UK, the largest support network for independent advice-giving organisations, providing products, services and networking opportunities, as well as seeking to influence government to improve policies, legislation and funding.”

There’s no denying that businesses are struggling to fill the developer roles they need. Citizen developers, however, shouldn’t be considered like-for-like replacements for what are, in fact, specialist positions. Rather, this model serves as a means for companies to use the untapped talent they have at their disposal to augment the existing pool of developers in their IT departments. Encouraging innovation within teams that are fully supported, moreover, can deliver the agility many enterprises have struggled to unlock.

Becoming a disruptor

Creating a culture of innovation within your company could lead to dramatic changes and disruptive innovation. According to a historic KPMG report, being taught new skills, feeling valued and being invited to share creatively and contribute ideas builds ownership, satisfaction, and loyalty. Business leaders, therefore, must ask themselves how they can transform their organisations into ideal host organisms to foster innovation. 

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This culture of innovation should guide how citizen developers approach the tasks they’ve been set, with a traditional, siloed approach to IT detrimental to businesses aiming to innovate at pace. Such an approach doesn’t dictate but empowers and facilities ideas, feeding into concrete projects that may, or may not, lead to the disruptive services and products that businesses seek. The enterprises that will thrive in the future are those that foster environments in which teams have the tools and skills to pursue all kinds of ideas.

Making this transition to include more citizen developers within a business, however, demands a change of attitude to innovation, as well as how innovation happens. Decentralising application development, for instance, will come more easily to some companies than others, and, of course, this method of innovation won't suit all enterprises across all sectors.

PMI’s Bakshi concludes that businesses embracing their citizen developers are those most likely to become the enterprises that will shape the post-pandemic future. “Ultimately, it’s about active training and delivering outcomes,” he says. “Reaping the benefits and innovations of citizen development can create real positive change for your organisation during a time of constant change and adaption, but doing it right is important. To utilise citizen development in a risk-free environment means investing in training and development, building performance feedback loops, along with an understanding of global standards of practice.”

Given the new commercial realities of the post-pandemic era, empowering a workforce to use its untapped technical skills to bring ideas to life is a powerful way for businesses to innovate. The rise of the citizen developer, of course, will be more transformational for some organisations than others. Those companies, however, that can unlock the technical expertise that’s previously been hidden beneath the surface might be able to take advantage of a new era of development.

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