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Citizen Developers in 2024: Who Are They & Why Do They Matter

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Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

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There’s a growing interest in application development in every business.  IDC claims that more than 500 million apps will be developed by 2023. However, IT departments can not meet the demand for new apps on-time since they have expensive resources, other priorities and require detailed specs from business to build apps.

Citizen developers can help meet the demand for building applications faster and with fewer resources. According to Gartner survey on citizen development, 41% of respondents have active citizen development initiatives and 20% of those who don’t are either evaluating or planning to start citizen development initiatives.

This article will explain all FAQs about citizen development practices including what it is, why it matters, its governance framework, use cases, applications, benefits, and tools.

What is mean by Citizen Developer?

Citizen developers are business users who can create their own applications with little to no coding knowledge. Citizen developers have no prior coding experience; that’s why tools like low code and no-code development platforms enable them to build their apps.

Citizen developers are different from professional developers who use pro code (also called traditional code or high code) to build solutions. The most important distinctions between no, low and pro code is the amount of coding required. While no code or codeless systems have a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that enables developers to build solutions without coding, pro code platforms generally rely only on code.

Gartner identifies 4 segments of business developers:

  • Citizen developers using no code development platforms
  • Citizen developers power users using low code platforms
  • Professional developers using low/pro code to support business requests
  • Professional developers using pro code to improve the company’s technology

Citizen developers (End users and Power Users) are the most crowded segment. Gartner expects that the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers by 2023.

Why is citizen development important for businesses?

Every IT department has same difficulties:

  • They are also responsible for developing enterprise-wide solutions
  • They have limited and expensive resources
  • Communication slows down the process:
    • Business needs to share specs with IT. Issues in the communication process can lead to misalignments between IT and business and a slow development process
    • IT needs to educate business users on the developed tools such as management interfaces. These trainings are usually skipped or not covered in enough detail, leading users to miss out on important functionality.

Adoption of citizen development enables IT to deal with these problems because

  • low code and no-code solutions empower business leaders to build apps without relying on IT. According to a survey, 80% of organizations state that citizen developers have given IT departments more breathing room.
  • IT priorities don’t slow down business initiatives, according to a survey conducted by OutSystems, low-code users were 12% more likely to say that their app backlog has improved.
  • low-code tools require no/minimal training. According to AIMultiple Low Code vendors list, “ease of use” is the most used (20%) positive word describing low code / no-code development platforms based on data collected from customer reviews for all low code / no-code development platforms companies. 

What is the territory of citizen developers in business?

Low code solutions have limitations that force citizen developers to focus on less complex apps that don’t interest other parts of the organization. Some limitations of low/ no-code solutions are

  • Limited customization options
  • Limited flexibility
  • Limited integration options
  • Security concerns due to partnership with third-party vendors

So business critical (i.e. wide-reaching applications), complex applications with high level security requirements are not great candidates for no code.

Parameters for business criticality are

  • Number of users
  • Degree of impact to business
  • Data security requirements
  • Business continuity and availability requirements
  • Need for regulatory compliance

Parameters for app complexity are

  • The simplicity of the user interface, such as a web form
  • Amount of integration into workflows and data sources
  • Need for custom programing
  • Amount of automation and cross-system interoperability needed

What are the applications of citizen development in business?

According to a Gartner survey with 55 participants in 2019, top app use cases are

  1. forms or data-collection apps (58%)
  2. apps that orchestrate business processes and workflows within apps (49%)
  3. apps that replace paper, email, or spreadsheets (42%)

These three application types are provided by most low code development tools and they are suitable for citizen development since they are neither complex nor enterprise wide applications.

Citizen development is a widely adopted practice by most enterprises. Same survey also reveals that average number of apps developed by citizen developers is 13 and web apps are the most common type of citizen development. About 79% of businesses build at least one a web application with citizen development within a year.

What are the benefits of citizen development?

1. Addresses shortage of developers in a cost-effective way

According to the Mckinsey study below, IT is the second largest area for businesses to address potential skill gaps. This developer shortage leads to the growth of software developer salaries. The average software developer salary in 2020 was more than $100K a year in the US. Though no-code solutions don’t fully replace a developer functionally, they cost less than hiring a new developer.

Source: Mckinsey

Besides citizen developers, companies also adopt citizen data science practices to meet data science talent demand. No code AI tools help businesses build AI solutions without the help of data scientists. Feel free to check our data driven no-code AI vendors list if you want to learn more about no-code AI software.

2. Speed of development

Traditional coding is a long and tedious task in which developers spend time writing code and debugging it. No /Low code solutions allow fewer customizations than typical programming languages enabling users to plan applications in simpler ways. Then they enable business users to design and build with point-and-click actions.

3. Aligns business leaders and IT

Before citizen development, the communication between business leaders and the IT team was a source of error. For instance, even though business users know what the program needs to accomplish, this can be difficult for them to explain to developers who, in most cases, do not have the domain knowledge of business users. Since no code and low code platforms enable business personnel to build their own apps or to work more collaboratively by jointly developing the application with the IT team, possible miscommunication is minimized.

4. Facilitates digital transformation

Almost 90% of companies have already adopted a digital-first business strategy or plan to do so. Integrating an innovative digital culture within the organization is a key step to digital transformation. Citizen development can help build an innovation focused culture by democratizing app development.

What are the challenges & best practices?

As mentioned before, citizen development is not a solution to all tech problems. Enterprise-wide complex systems need to be developed by tech teams. However, for building simpler applications, there are still challenges faced by business.

1. Cultural challenges

Business teams are not used to building their technology and may resist doing so. Businesses should not attempt to force individuals into citizen development but encourage its growth by providing the tools and training for business personnel who want to explore it. By communicating company’s citizen developer strategy broadly and publicly rewarding early achievements, leaders can instil a culture of citizen development.

2. Training & testing

As a team, we have tinkered with citizen development tools and have not always produced great programs. Those who are not used to writing software may have difficulty adapting to its strictly rules based way of working. Launching training programs, peer reviews and testing can help citizen developers improve the quality of their software

What are top tools that enable citizen development?

There are numerous low code and no-code development vendors that provide APIs or Graphical User Interface (GUI) to their clients. Low-code development platforms mostly offer a visual drag-and-drop development approach

If you want to see the extensive list of low code development platforms, you can also check our transparent list where we sorted +100 vendors by AIMultiple score that shows the best solutions based on maturity, popularity, and satisfaction.

If you still have question on citizen development, feel free to contact us:

Find the Right Vendors

* Gartner quotes are taken from their publicly available report “The Future of Apps Must Include Citizen Development

Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Cem's hands-on enterprise software experience contributes to the insights that he generates. He oversees AIMultiple benchmarks in dynamic application security testing (DAST), data loss prevention (DLP), email marketing and web data collection. Other AIMultiple industry analysts and tech team support Cem in designing, running and evaluating benchmarks.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised enterprises on their technology decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Sources: Traffic Analytics, Ranking & Audience, Similarweb.
Why Microsoft, IBM, and Google Are Ramping up Efforts on AI Ethics, Business Insider.
Microsoft invests $1 billion in OpenAI to pursue artificial intelligence that’s smarter than we are, Washington Post.
Data management barriers to AI success, Deloitte.
Empowering AI Leadership: AI C-Suite Toolkit, World Economic Forum.
Science, Research and Innovation Performance of the EU, European Commission.
Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge, McKinsey & Company.
Hypatos gets $11.8M for a deep learning approach to document processing, TechCrunch.
We got an exclusive look at the pitch deck AI startup Hypatos used to raise $11 million, Business Insider.

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Pavneet Kaur
Sep 28, 2021 at 10:57

Thank you for a very simple but complete view of why citizen-developers/shadow IT needs to embrace instead of being hated by IT.

Bardia Eshghi
Nov 18, 2022 at 08:52

Hello, Pavneet. We’re glad you enjoyed the article!

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