It was once written that “software is eating the world,” “APIs are eating the world” and “APIs are eating software.” In 2019, a more accurate statement might be, “APIs (or application programming interfaces) fuel the software that’s still eating the world.”
In today’s world, there is an ever-constant demand for software, enterprise applications and mobile applications, and most company IT departments can’t keep up. Enter the citizen developer. Citizen developers are helping organizations close the demand gap and innovate more quickly. But who are they and what role do they fill within an organization? And how do they contribute to overall technology innovation within a company?
Citizen Developers and the Need for Speed
The ongoing need to develop software quickly and efficiently has given rise to a new type of developer. A citizen developer is a non-professional developer who builds new business applications using existing tools, development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. They also can access various online tutorials to learn and master their application-building skills.
Today’s software development environment, powered by APIs, is ripe for the citizen developer. APIs, mobile application development kits and the cloud have created a no-code/low-code, building block-like approach to building software. Less code and a more simplistic software development path allow citizen developers to create much-needed apps quickly. This building-block approach cuts development time, translating to faster time-to-value.
Speed is critical not only in the creation of new apps, but also in the end user experience of these apps. With the building-block model, citizen developers use best-of-breed technologies for each block—making the resulting UX optimal (and fast) for an internal user or customer end user. Internal users are able to use fast, effective search within employee directories, company intranets and project management solutions, for example.
For end users, this need for speed addresses their ever-growing expectations. When someone searches for hotel deals in Phoenix, for example, they expect accurate, personalized and fast results. Even a one- or two-second delay can translate to lost opportunity and revenue.
In the digital workplace, citizen developers serve a key purpose. For starters, they know firsthand about the challenges employees face at work; they also know which applications or tools are critical to getting the job done. These non-IT developers (perhaps in a business or marketing role) help create apps for timesheet entry, productivity tracking, project workflow reporting and more. In one study, 76% of businesses stated that at least some of their apps were developed outside of their IT department—and 20% even stated that most of their applications were created outside of IT.
Citizen developers often use low-code tools or visual tools with some degree of coding required. Low-code allows developers to design and develop software applications with minimal hand-coding, while low-code platforms enable users to build applications with modern user interfaces, integrations and data quickly without writing thousands of lines of complex code. Also, citizen developers may work alongside software developers and database experts to develop apps with custom coding to meet specific enterprise or company needs.
Citizen Developers and IT: Working Together
When citizen developers work alongside IT, two things happen. First, by creating simple apps on their own, they enable IT to focus on developing more complex applications. Second, when building more complicated or customized applications, IT can use citizen developers to derive valuable insight. This data helps with testing or tweaking business app prototypes. With low-code, citizen developers with some technical skill start with a prototype and then can iterate with the IT team during the developer phase and later integration of systems, custom coding and security processes. Also, developers, who are often asked to understand more of the business side of the organization, gain this insight working with workplace citizen developers. And the results are promising: 82% of citizen developers said they witnessed a reduction in inefficient tasks while 71% reported an increase in team productivity.
In the past, IT spearheaded application development projects from beginning to end. Now, with citizen developers becoming an integral part of the workplace, IT’s role changes a bit. While no longer in full control, IT does give recommendations to the business department and selects development components and building blocks.
Just the Beginning
When it comes to search software, citizen developers have the potential to create personalized and customized experiences. While some types of front-end search are simple to create, developing a personalized and customized search experience is more complicated. This is where the current work lies and in doing so, we can build a new community of search-focused citizen developers.
This is only the beginning, as there will always be a demand for developers (both traditionally trained and citizen developers). In the coming years, we will see more citizen developers as there literally aren’t enough engineering schools to train students to meet business demand. They are helping to democratize application and software development across the board—and we can expect to see businesses and consumers continue to benefit.