“Do it yourself,” that’s often a phrase associated with home improvement, and ill-conceived repairs. These days it’s increasingly including app development in its meaning. That’s what it meant to Noah Clay Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Quattrone Nanofabrication Facility.  When he arrived in 2013, he noticed that the lab management software was ridiculously outdated. When he brought the issue to UPenn’s IT department, they said it could take up to 2 years to get around to it as they were swamped with higher priority projects. Instead of waiting, he made his own.

Clay’s story is not unusual. Businesses run on IT, and often their departments are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of tasks that need completing. This problem of digital inefficiency is so widespread, that it costs U.S. businesses 1.3 trillion a year in lost productivity. Using a program platform provided by UPenn’s IT called Mendix App – a “low-code” development app designed to allow people without formal programming training/skill to create their own apps – Clay and his team of 15 hammered out a solution in just a few weeks.

The term, “citizen developer,” was coined by industry analyst firm, Gartner, to describe an end user who creates business applications using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. This is in contrast to “shadow IT” which bypasses corporate IT to get the latest in tech which may open businesses up to data breaches.

The Revolution

Citizen developers are assets in today’s fast-paced business world where minutes count, and solutions need to be found now, not 2 years from now. They also are down in the trenches as it were and are in a unique position to know what they need a program to do to help them perform as well as do any troubleshooting in real-time.  Also since they free up IT to focus on more pressing or technical concerns, on top of not needing to buy software from a third party company, they save quite a bit of money.

It is estimated that 8 out of 10 businesses turn to citizen developers for quick IT solutions.  All of the issues that businesses used to run into trying to find IT solutions have been significantly reduced by utilizing citizen developers. It used to be that if you wanted an IT solution there was always the possibility that the product delivered wouldn’t even solve the problem you had in the first place. As there may be miscommunications and bugs in the code would take much longer to iron out through communications.

The Caveat

Shadow IT can pose severe risks to the security of a company’s infrastructure. So it’s important that companies that wish to take advantage of the benefits citizen developers bring to have their IT departments set up citizen developer programs with approved program architectures and runtime environments. They also need a way to monitor what data these programs are accessing and storing and what they do with it.

While this may take quite a bit of IT resources and time to set up such a thing, the long term benefits are clear. The adaptability such setups afford workers on the forefront pays off in dividends.