Citizen Development Solution: How Low-Code Platforms are Democratizing Software Development

In the current era of rapid technological advancement, businesses are under immense pressure to achieve digital transformation at an unprecedented pace. IT leaders are encountering significant challenges in accelerating the development process, addressing the talent gap, and resolving skills shortages. Fortunately, citizen development is emerging as a viable solution for overcoming these obstacles. By leveraging low-code/no-code platforms, non-technical employees can now create custom applications and unique technological solutions.

What Is Citizen Development?

Citizen development is a novel approach to software creation, enabling non-IT staff to utilize low-code/no-code (LCNC) platforms for building business applications. Despite lacking traditional coding training, these citizen developers possess a thorough understanding of their organization's or department's needs, allowing them to craft effective business solutions and automate processes using LCNC tools. This strategy makes software development accessible, allowing individuals to easily design and implement complex business applications and streamline workflows without the necessity for in-depth coding knowledge. By leveraging LCNC technologies, citizen development facilitates the rapid deployment of business solutions, boosting operational efficiency and productivity across various organizational levels.

The Role of Citizen Developers

In many organizations, the IT departments are inundated with a sizable backlog of work, leading to delayed responses to new requests. The high volume of requests creates an unmanageable pipeline, making it challenging to keep up. Recent studies indicate that planned IT projects can face an average backlog ranging from 3 to 12 months [1], with 47% of developers reporting a lack of access to the necessary tools required for timely product and app creation [2]. Moreover, it is predicted that the market demand for application development will grow at a rate at least 5 times faster than conventional IT departments can fulfill [3], a number that is expected to increase with the potential global shortage of software engineers, projected to reach 85.2 million by 2030 [4].

Citizen development is a method that can reduce the workload on IT departments and simplify the creation of customized solutions within organizations. This strategy enables departments and teams to create bespoke applications using LCNC platforms that meet their specific requirements with little to no involvement from IT departments. According to research by Gartner, there will be a significant shift in the development landscape by 2026. The study predicts that non-IT developers will make up 80% of users for low-code tools [5], and 75% of new applications will be developed using these tools [6].  Therefore, citizen developers can democratize application development by extending it beyond the boundaries of specialized IT departments.

Benefits of Citizen Development

By empowering non-technical employees to create applications, organizations can enhance their agility, reduce their dependence on IT departments, and foster a culture of innovation. Some of the major benefits of citizen development for businesses are:

  • Alleviate the IT talent shortage

Citizen developers can alleviate the current IT talent scarcity by utilizing LCNC tools. These platforms enable individuals with industry knowledge and business expertise but limited coding skills to contribute to application development. This fresh perspective can drive digital transformation and allow organizations to fully leverage the benefits of LCNC technology.

  • Digital agility & innovation

The rapidly expanding world of application development requires companies to remain competitive by consistently creating new applications. In this regard, LCNC and citizen development allow organizations to build apps that adapt quickly to changing requirements and market demands. Citizen application development promotes innovation and encourages creative thinking, making it an essential component of modern development strategies.

  • Speed

Citizen development can significantly reduce the time required to launch new apps and update features. For instance, citizen developers can easily gather feedback directly from their colleagues who use the app and then independently make necessary adjustments if something needs fixing. Since non-IT experts have a better understanding of business needs and challenges, the solutions they build usually address problems more efficiently, resulting in a better user experience.

  • Cost-effective

Developing applications with citizen developers can significantly reduce overall development costs. This approach enables the creation of apps in a much shorter time frame - sometimes within days instead of months. Additionally, less coding required means less time spent on app development, leading to lower costs. Moreover, providing non-IT experts with the necessary tools, support, and training to build new apps is more cost-effective than outsourcing.

Finding the Right Platform for Your Citizens

The emergence of citizen developers marks a transformative era in software development, significantly democratized by low-code/no-code (LCNC) technologies. This shift enables non-IT professionals to create the applications and processes they need, thereby reducing the workload on IT departments. However, the key to unleashing the full potential of citizen developers lies in selecting the appropriate LCNC platform. While there are numerous tools available, such as Mendix, Microsoft PowerApps, and Salesforce Lightning, it's vital for organizations to choose a platform that precisely matches their needs. Many LCNC platforms are designed with specific industries or use cases in mind, offering solutions that include features and integrations tailored to the unique requirements of different sectors. Therefore, organizations must undertake a careful evaluation of these options to truly capitalize on the opportunities presented by citizen development solutions.

Author Tran Diep Trinh