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3 ways citizen developers can achieve your digital transformation goals

Tamara Rosin 8 min read
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We’ve been hearing about digital transformation for years now — and IT hasn’t had a break since. 

Developers are overwhelmed by an unending IT request pipeline, keeping up is impossible.

Enter “citizen developers” – who have the potential to alleviate the massive burden on IT, increase speed, and boost innovation. 

How can citizen developers, combined with low-code/no-code software help you achieve your digital transformation goals? Read on for more. 

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What is a citizen developer?

Citizen developers are individuals who don’t have formal development training and who aren’t in IT or R&D departments. They are called “developers” because they create new web or mobile applications that are functional and fit into their digital environments, without heavy coding.

Low-code/no-code platforms: Must-have citizen developer tools

Low-code and no-code platforms are essential to a citizen developer toolbox. These platforms use a visual Integrated Development Environment (IDE), where users drag-and-drop app components to create new apps. 

Compared to the traditional method of app development, with low-code/no-code platforms, users can create functional apps in days or even hours with minimal code (opposed to weeks or months of coding).

When used together, low-code/no-code platforms allow enterprises to churn out new apps quickly for precise business needs with their current talent and resources. 

Low-code vs. no-code: What’s the difference?

Low-code platforms require some coding, but much less than the traditional development process. Often, programmers use low-code solutions to create the foundation for an app. Non-developers can then finish and customize it with no-code. 

No-code platforms allow users with no coding experience to put together apps with reusable, functional building blocks on a visual IDE.

In both, IT must maintain complete governance over which users have access to data, functionality, and systems. This keeps data secure, according to the company’s policies. 

Without citizen developers, you’ll face a sludgy digital transformation

IT simply can’t do everything alone — not if you care about speed, meeting key business goals, and keeping your employees happy. 

When your IT is overwhelmed and unable to deliver new solutions fast enough, both developers and employees get frustrated. Developers will get irritated that their pipeline never ends – and employees will get annoyed waiting developers to create apps. Moreover, slow response times makes it harder to compete in a rapidly evolving market or meet key business objectives.

With the added power of citizen developers, you can overcome these challenges and achieve more benefits: 

1. Unlock unprecedented levels of speed at a lower cost

Digital transformation is supposed to be fast. Keeping pace with the competition and staying relevant in the eyes of your customers requires continual and rapid progress. 

But as we’ve discussed, the strain on IT to routinely develop, customize, and prepare the enterprise for new apps is too strong to be fast enough.

But citizen developers can help.  By democratizing valuable and expensive development capabilities, you can spread out the work of creating innovative, time-saving apps across a broader group of employees. According to 451 Research, integrating low-code/no-code tools can increase development efficiency by 50%-90%. 

Moreover, the cost of developing more apps at a faster rate will ultimately go down. 

Developer time is expensive — programmers in “big business class” software companies earn an average of $200-$300 per hour. By ensuring your developers focus their time and talents on the most complex development projects and allowing citizen developers to fulfill their own needs, your organization will save money and move faster.

2. Improve the employee digital experience

The “employee digital experience” refers to the impact of technology on employees’ everyday lives at work. The current backlog of requests for new IT solutions, the lack of necessary apps for employees, and the unyielding pressure to get more done faster makes employees stressed and less productive.

For many employees, the result is a poor employee digital experience. 

Imagine every week you need to build a report on your team’s performance. To do this, have to pivot between different apps and manually input all of the data.

This alone is a bad employee digital experience — it’s time-consuming, error-prone, and contributes to digital fatigue.

And what makes it even worse? The fact that you know there’s a solution that can automatically create your reports, but you can’t get your hands on it because IT is swamped and won’t get to it until next quarter.

Allowing citizen developers to participate in the app development process can drastically improve the digital experience for employees within and outside of IT. Citizen developers help lift some of the work off IT’s plate, which reduces stress and enables them to work faster and more effectively on tasks that demand their full expertise.

For non-developers, having the ability to build apps will boost their sense of autonomy, enabling them to fulfill their own needs, and reducing delays. Also, by allowing non-developers to participate in this process, they will better understand technology capabilities and limitations, which can empower them to come up with more innovative ideas.

3. Increase user adoption and efficiency

User adoption is one of the most important parts of digital transformation.

You purchase tools with the most advanced capabilities. You deploy them. And then they sit on the shelf because your employees can’t integrate them into their work. Sound familiar? 

But imagine your employees could build exactly what they need to do their work. They’d use that software more – and that’s why empowering citizen developers is so important.

 When employees can build apps that fulfill their own unique needs — without the complexity and added features of off-the-shelf solutions — they won’t need any convincing to embrace the software. On the contrary, they will be eager to adopt the tool and expand its usage over time. 

Citizen developer problems & the broad threat of “shadow IT”

There are many benefits of having citizen developers in your organization, but there are also pitfalls to be aware of.

While developers may be eager to lessen their workloads, many may worry about enabling citizen developers who may not understand the data, security, and IT infrastructure. Some of the biggest citizen developer problems fall under the umbrella of “shadow IT.  Shadow IT refers to the use of software or hardware by a department or individual without the IT or security’s knowledge or permission.

Common shadow IT examples include the unsanctioned adoption of tools like Dropbox or Google Drive, which employees can easily download and use to share private documents or data.

Even the use of Instagram and Skype on corporate devices without the permission of IT falls under the realm of shadow IT. What seems harmless to employees can be completely undermining your organization’s security posture. If Instagram is problematic, giving employees the ability to create their own apps and put them to use probably sounds like your CISO’s worst nightmare.

Main consequences of shadow IT include:


  • Increased security vulnerabilities:
    Employees who aren’t trained on security standards or regulatory compliance may create apps that may put the organization’s systems and data at risk. Potentially, this can lead to catastrophic breaches.
  • Inadequate support:
    If IT is unaware of all of the apps citizen developers build, they may not be prepared to provide support if the app experiences bugs or other problems.
  • Unscalable:
    All new apps must be scalable. The purpose of citizen developers is not to build tools for their exclusive use, but to integrate new, valuable solutions into the digital ecosystem. Moreover, there must be steps in place to transition ownership of an app if the creator leaves the company.


Avoiding these issues comes down to setting the right expectations. Adopting low-code/no-code software and allowing citizen developers to create apps doesn’t mean there is a free-for-all. There must be a clear structure and process in place to ensure that IT maintains oversight of the digital ecosystem to avoid problems down the road.

Empower citizen developers and propel your digital transformation forward

By allowing your employees to become citizen developers, you can unlock the speed, agility, and efficiency required to sail through digital transformation. 

While IT should always stay in control of the app development process, giving employees the autonomy they need to quickly fulfill their own needs for apps and reducing reliance on IT will help achieve your digital transformation goals. 

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Tamara's writing explores the effects of technology on organizational change, culture, and consumer behavior. When she isn't busy creating marketing content, you can find her writing short stories about life in Israel.
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