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Everyone agrees that citizen developers are on the rise. It’s part of the surge of IT “democratization”: the democratization of technology, democratization of data, and even the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement fits into this category.

The current thinking is, true digital transformation will not occur until every employee participates in it in some way or another because digital transformation demands a wholesale shift of mindsets, skills, and culture for your organization. Nurturing citizen developers is a big part of that. But in addition to the advantages, there are some potential bumps in the road to watch out for. 

Creating a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) center of excellence (CoE) is critical as your citizen development program scales.

The low-code/no-code opportunity

Citizen developers are enabled by the new low-code/no-code solutions that have been introduced into the market such as our Automation 360™ platform and tools. Low-code/no-code solutions can be easy to learn and use and produce sophisticated automations that help business units improve productivity and efficiency.

What’s driving the rise of business users and other nontechnical users as citizen developers? Among other things:

A shortage of programmers. Over the next 10 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the U.S. labor market will add 409,500 software developer jobs at a 22% growth rate, or an average of about 41,000 new jobs each year. But a 43% decline in new computer science graduates in 2021 reported by the American Council on Education will leave thousands of jobs unfilled. Nurturing citizen developers will help you mitigate this shortage.

Backlog of IT requests. The problem with IT backlogs on app requests goes back decades. It’s still a problem. A 2021 survey by Dimensional Research reported that 77% of technology and 71% of business leaders said their IT teams have pipelines of new tech solution requests that can’t be met in a timely manner by IT. The backlog can be eliminated with citizen developers.

Specialized business know-how of users. Business users have a better grasp of what’s going on in the lines of business (LOBs) so that the apps they build are frequently often more useful to an organization.

The speed of today’s markets. This is related to the lengthy IT project pipeline. In the digital age, the demands of the market are evolving much faster than ever. Allowing individuals to do leading-edge innovation with low-code/no-code RPA tools will help your business keep up. This is a genuine game-changer.

Challenges of depending on citizen developers

For all the benefits of nurturing citizen developers, there are some significant actions that an organization needs to take to safeguard its business. Here’s a shortlist of the five most urgent ones to consider for a successful citizen development program.

1. Follow enterprise security safeguards

There are risks to allowing non-programmers with no formal training to build applications that tap into enterprise data or legacy systems. This can leave your business open to hackers and malware, as well as any vulnerabilities with the new applications themselves.

Depending on your organization’s requirements, safeguards could entail using only computers belonging to the organization, avoiding external memory devices, password protection, and requiring cybersecurity awareness training.

2. Comply with data governance mandates

Citizen developers must be aware of compliance mandates, external regulatory rules, such as GRPD and HIPAA, and internal restrictions for accessing, using, and sharing enterprise data. They should understand the data they need and its relevance to what they’re trying to do.

3. Employ a robust QA process

In some cases, when non-IT professionals create applications, they end up with inefficient workflows, process logic errors, and poor design. The reason for that situation can include not understanding the fundamental building blocks of the low-code/no-code solutions they’re using. Then, they try to make their creation work as best they can by using code they’ve found online and hacking different code snippets together. In the end, the creation might work for a little bit and then break. It could hurt, rather than help, the business processes that are targeted for automation.

Organizations should encourage their citizen developers to enroll in bot-building classes that are available through the community, colleges, and platform providers. For example, Automation Anywhere offers individual classes and learning trails. In addition, to help avoid problems, the applications created by the citizen developers should undergo rigorous quality assessment tests before being released to general use.

4. Maintain apps responsibly after they’re released

Unfortunately, apps don't run forever as is. Inevitably, if employees develop solutions for others, they’ll be asked for modifications, bug fixes, and other improvements coworkers would like. And the moment the developers agree to make a change, they become responsible for it.

If you’re not careful, the citizen developer becomes a miniature version of the IT department. You need a maintenance framework—probably involving a CoE—so that apps don’t become crises the moment they have more than a single user.

5. Make the app’s user experience intuitive and consistent

There’s a reason that Microsoft and Apple software uses the same basic commands in their interface. They follow certain user experience conventions as well. That’s because inconsistency increases training costs and reduces adoption rates. You don’t want your users to have to relearn an entire interface for a single app. Having your COE establish UX consistency guidelines—and enforce them—is essential.

CoE is key to successful citizen development

Investing in resources such as an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) can help ensure that your citizen developer program will enjoy long-term success. As a way to foster a culture of innovation and eliminate the IT app backlog, putting together a formal citizen developer initiative—with the right low-code/no-code RPA solution and a well-managed CoE—can dramatically impact your business’s productivity and efficiency.

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