The idea of “citizen developers” is becoming increasingly popular in the mobile app development space. Citizen developers are defined as end users who create new business applications for consumption by themselves, using development and runtime environments sanctioned, or at not actively forbidden, by central IT. In fact, according to Gartner, 70 percent of enterprise mobile apps will be developed or adopted without IT involvement by 2020.

The idea of citizen developers in the workplace has been a gradually growing concept since 2012 and had a major upswing around 2015. Recently, chatter has grown around the availability of new tools, adoption and success cases of citizen development tools, such as rapid mobile app development solutions.

A Continuum of Citizen Developers

There are two common types of app development solutions that are frequently used by citizen developers: no code and low code. “No Code” tools are purely visual and apps are created using GUI-based drag and drop visual editors, no coding required. These no-code tools are used most often by those in business and marketing including business analysts, marketers, graphic designers, process experts, human resources and sales managers. The citizen developers that use these tools usually have graphical, point and click skills that rely on visual components.

“Low Code” tools are mostly visual tools with components of coding allowed. Technical-based business users may work alongside software developers, HTML designers, and database experts to develop these apps with drag-and-drop editors and custom coding to meet specific enterprise needs. The citizen developers that use these tools are often more technical and are data and process driven and can work with components and modules.

Are Citizen Developers Necessary? 

The short answer is a resounding: Yes! Citizen developers are an integral part of any organization’s digital workspace and are needed to deploy productivity-enhancing apps that all employees will use. These non-IT developers know first hand about the challenges and pain points faced by employees just trying to do their jobs. They know what apps and workflows are critical and which would be a “nice to have” down the road. Citizen developers can help by developing apps that lead to quick wins such as timesheet entry, expense reporting or approval processes that are not top of mind priorities for technical teams. This allows IT to focus on more complex application development.

IT can also work alongside their citizen developers to prototype business apps, receive their input on what is needed to improve processes and ultimately, add value to the business. While citizen developers can help develop simple applications, test drive prototype apps and help IT deploy applications that address business challenges, they do not have the technical skills needed to complete integration of systems, maintenance, custom coding and security procedures. This bimodal approach to developing apps tears down the walls between the user and IT, and opens an opportunity to get the data, capabilities, and user experiences the business needs, with the security, back-end control, and visibility that IT requires.

Citizen Developers Help Improve Collaboration in the Workplace

The most important step in the app development process is choosing which task or processes needs to be mobilized first, and then prioritizing other tasks that need to be done based on the needs of employees. Meeting business users’ needs is a key factor in defining common criteria for evaluating app projects. To do this IT should ask their citizen developers, “What can the business gain if we successfully deploy this app?”

The easiest way to do this is for your IT and citizen development teams to start with low-hanging fruit or apps that are the easiest to develop but solve small but significant problems. From here, projects should be prioritized by apps that are easy to build but have a low impact, followed by apps that are hard to build and yield a low impact. Prioritizing these apps with a structured plan is the most efficient way for your organization to begin the mobile app development process, before ever investing in an app development platform.