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Accelerating innovation with citizen development

 

Organisations are always searching for that edge, that special something that will give them a lead on the competition. For many, that means trying to be innovative; to come up with ideas quickly, identifying the ones that are feasible, and getting them to deployment. It’s about speed, being able to think without restriction, use tools and services as required, rather than as decreed.  

 

The gap between business and tech 

Often, it can be the source of friction between business units and those functions set up to support them. Shadow IT is a good example of this, where people outside of IT use technology that hasn’t been prescribed by a central department. The business might be frustrated by the slow pace of procurement and sign-off, it might fear missing out on an opportunity, it might not even be aware of established processes.  

Whatever the reason, the goal is to get their hands on what they need so that they can do their work faster. For IT, traditionally this has been a nightmare, with the risk of security and compliance breaches, unknown burdens on existing infrastructure, a lack of oversight and integration with other company systems.  

Yet Shadow IT is as much a symptom of challenges as it is a cause of them. The business wants to innovate, and in the current market, that means accessing the technology they need to create new ways of operating. The problem is the gap between what the business wants and what IT can deliver. This may well not be through want of trying – IT teams remain relatively small in comparison to the wider business, tasked with both keeping the lights on and enabling digital transformation on limited budgets and other resources.  

So, is there an argument that some forms of shadow IT are good for organisation? Potentially. It would need to retain some form of central oversight, while still allowing non-IT employees scope to build the services and apps they need to work more effectively.  

For some organisations, this would still be too much. But more and more forward-thinking decision-makers are prepared to back such an approach, particularly in the field of citizen development.  

 

What is citizen development? 

Technically speaking, citizen development has been around since personal computers entered the workforce, but it isn’t a particularly well-known concept outside of IT circles. Put simply, it is non-IT employees using easy-to-use tools to create their own software to support their role and that of the wider team. It’s particularly useful when the team is relatively small, or the application will only be of relevance to a proportion of the organisation.  

Despite not being hugely widespread, it is gathering pace now, such that a Gartner survey 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. That’s all thanks to a digital-literate workforce that is increasingly at home with self-service and finding answers to challenges themselves.  

They’re able to do this because businesses are waking up to the potential benefits of having non-IT employees working on tech problems – aside from sharing the burden from over-stretched IT teams, workers are getting the apps they need to do their jobs more effectively.  

But to make sure it is a success and drives the requisite innovation, businesses do have to be clear on the sort of model they’re going to apply to citizen development.  

 

Which citizen development model works for you? 

Broadly speaking, there are three approaches.  

At one end, there is autocracy. Everything is centrally controlled, with nothing agreed without corporate IT sign-off. This is not citizen development. In reality, it is an archaic approach to technology use within the business that should have gone out of fashion about a decade ago. It might once have worked when knowledge was limited to specialist professionals and the cost of procuring both hardware and software was significant, but today it is more likely to do harm than good.  

The opposite of autocracy is anarchy. Anyone can do anything, with no oversight. The potential for unrivaled, unrestricted creativity and innovation abounds; so too does the opportunity for chaos and failure. Whatever gains that may be gathered from this approach could well be lost, as the lack of oversight means that whatever is developed could well not fit into existing systems.  

In the middle is democracy – taking the central oversight of autocracy with the freedom of creativity to come up with a structure and process that supports innovation while allowing a form of control. Citizen developers can work on their own projects to meet the needs of their roles and that of their teams, but they do so within an agreed framework. First, this is not open to everyone; participants should demonstrate their competency (much like how drivers need to pass driving tests or certain professions have to be certified to work). Second, work is completed on platforms and tools provided by central IT, to enable future integration as well as management of resources.  

Of course, nothing is perfect, so there are downsides to democracy as well. Often, bureaucracy and surfeit of red tape can hinder the use of citizen development, as multiple agreements are needed before work can begin.  

 

A platform made for citizen development and innovation 

Like anything, having the right foundations in place is critical to the success of citizen development and, through it, a business's ability to innovate. Those companies that want non-IT employees to create exciting digital services and apps should still have a platform, along with an appropriate framework and agreed principles, which will support the model they want to pursue. As noted above, leaving people to get on with it is a fast route to anarchy, while trying to exercise too much control will throttle creativity.  

That’s what we’ve developed at Enate. We know that the quickest way to innovation is to support the pursuit of citizen development democracy. Our platform combines structure and training capabilities with the right underlying infrastructure to allow key components to be re-used as required. We’ve also focused heavily on eliminating bureaucracy by simplifying processes as much as possible.  

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