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Why Citizen Development could be the next big thing for enterprise IT


Shadow IT – a phrase guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of corporate IT teams. A tech-literate workforce that isn’t prepared to wait for traditional enterprise IT processes to give them the apps and services they want to do their jobs, so they go out and get themselves. Empowered by the increasing cloudification of software, where anyone with a credit card can sign up for the sort of computing power and ability that used to require months-long procurement processes and huge up-front investment to deploy on-premises. 

Is Shadow IT all bad?

And with it comes risks and threats – security, hidden budget, the unknown burden on company infrastructure, breaches of compliance. 

Yet is it all bad? The reason shadow IT proliferates is because central IT teams struggle, whether through budgetary, procurement, or compliance restrictions, to keep pace with business demands. In turn, the wider business wants these apps and services to operate effectively in an increasingly digital world. Irrespective of industry or customer base, expectations have been transformed over the last few years, with people expecting a certain level of experience that can only be delivered by digital tools. Shadow IT offers one way to meet those expectations. 

In fact, there are types of shadow IT that can actually be good for the entire organization, which forward-thinking CIOs are prepared to back. Citizen development is one such example. 

Defining citizen development

Despite being around for many years, citizen development is not a particularly well-known phenomenon. Gartner defines citizen developers as “an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units… they report to a business unit or function other than IT.”

So, it’s non-IT employees creating their own software to support their role and that of their wider team. It’s gathering pace now because of an increasing digital-literate workforce that is more comfortable in creating and doing things for themselves, rather than waiting for someone to approve a purchase order. 

In fact, it’s growing at such a rate that a Gartner survey on citizen development found that 41% of enterprises have active citizen development initiatives, and 20% of those that don’t are either evaluating or planning to start citizen development initiatives.

The benefits are clear – users get the apps they want, while IT departments can spend more time on larger, company-wide projects and less time bogged down in requests that only cover small parts of the business. 

Picking the appropriate model

Of course, for organizations looking to incorporate citizen development into their operations, identifying the right model is critical. There is a sense of organized chaos with citizen development which, if left unchecked, can descend into anarchy, as individual teams only focus on themselves, sacrificing the greater good for personal gain. 

It’s worth thinking about citizen development in terms of real-world government. At one end, there is autocracy – complete, central control, where nothing is allowed that a governing body (in this instance corporate IT) does not agree to. There is no scope for citizen development, as IT controls everything tech-related. 

In other words, a classic business IT model from 30 years ago. This worked when knowledge was restricted to those that had studied and worked in technology but is seen as restrictive and archaic today. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the anarchy previously mentioned. Solutions and applications are created with no control and no reference to each other or any kind of centralised plan. While there may be moments of great individual innovation and creativity, whatever gains are quickly lost when it does not align with the wider organization. In the majority of cases, initiatives are likely to fail and ruin the image of citizen development within the business. 

Finally, there is the supposed happy medium – democracy. While this offers scope for citizen developers to work on their own projects, it is done so within clearly defined boundaries, with proven competencies (so a level of technical ability and understanding of the implications of their work) and with an established infrastructure (managed by IT) for citizen developers to work with. 

It should provide the best of both worlds – a degree of centralised control and focus, with the scope to find the right creative solution. Of course, there are downsides – as with a real-world democracy, red-tape and bureaucracy can hinder citizen development as multiple agreements are needed before work can begin. 

The right tools for the job

That’s why having the right foundations in place to support citizen development is so important. Those enterprises that want to benefit from having non-IT employees building exciting digital services and apps still need to put in place a platform, along with an appropriate framework and agreed principles, which will support the model they want to pursue. Just leaving employees to get on with it will result in anarchy, while being too restrictive will stifle creativity and potential innovation opportunities.

The Enate platform, for example, has been developed to support the pursuit of democracy in citizen development. It combines clear structure and training capabilities (those proven competencies) with the right underlying infrastructure to allow key components to be re-used as required, while also eliminating bureaucracy by simplifying processes as much as possible. 

To find out how Enate could support your citizen development efforts, take a look at our product overview.