As low-code development continues its ascent, today’s CIOs may feel they have three choices: Block it, ignore it or embrace it.
Looking at the data, however, it’s clear that embracing the trend is the only real option: Gartner predicts that by 2024 65% of all app development will be handled via low-code.
The emergence and steady adoption of low-code development marks a pivotal moment in enterprise technology. If we can securely expand app development beyond the walls of IT, we can empower an entirely new group of people – known as “citizen developers” – to create tools that can solve their toughest problems and create efficiencies.
Given that the low-code genie is now out of the bottle, the key question should shift from “is low-code worth our time?” to “how can my organization adopt it in a sustainable, effective and secure way?” Here are three features that successful citizen developer programs all share.
They Have Defined Goals
It’s hard to overstate the importance of goal setting. Through clear established goals, organizations can both set a direction and assess their progress against where they want to go.
However, these goals shouldn’t be set in a vacuum. A critical first step in every organization’s citizen development journey is the formation of a low-code Center of Excellence. This group brings together a diverse group of experts across your organization (both inside and outside of IT) to establish best practices and consistency across low-code application development. Together, they can establish clear goals for your organization’s citizen development program, whether those goals focus on productivity, speed, or organizational effectiveness.
Once you establish these long-term goals, you must then track progress against them. Tracking adoption is vital; low-code initiatives can only drive impact if people use them. For this reason, it’s also important to establish processes for the measurement and reporting of your citizen developer program, including how many low-code applications are in development and how many end users are adopting them.
They Celebrate Their Citizen Developers
If you want to build a truly successful citizen developer program, you must think like a marketer. This means getting good at building awareness, trust and credibility.
Let’s start with awareness. As with any other major change initiative, citizen development efforts must be heavily communicated and branded. Organizations should generate excitement about their programs and make it clear to employees the benefits of getting involved.
Building trust is also important. When citizen developers spend hours of their lives building something new, they need to trust that their work will be recognized and adopted. At ServiceNow, anytime a low-code app goes live, I send out a personalized note thanking the creator for their contributions. This may seem like a small gesture, but it shows that I’m invested in their success and their success of our overall Citizen Development program. It’s not going anywhere.
And third is credibility. This can take on many forms, but one of the most powerful is social proof. Organizations should promote all the low-code efforts underway internally, showcasing what their teams are building and how those creations bring value to the business and how they are helping colleagues save time and energy. Not only does this engage, empower and encourage your existing citizen developers, but it also serves as social proof that encourages others to get involved as well. This is the kind of positive feedback loop that’s at the heart of every successful new initiative.
They Have the Right Guardrails
Despite the clear benefits of low-code, I’m amazed at how much I still hear from CIOs and IT leaders who are concerned about the risk implications of citizen development.
If you’re one of those CIOs, here’s a reality check: This risk already exists; you’re just not aware of it. The truth of the matter is that employees are already using low-code tools, just without the approval of their IT teams. In many ways, it’s similar to the early days of the BYOD movement, when CIOs quickly realized they had to embrace the trend, not ignore it.
For this reason, developing corporate governance around low-code is critical. Once you realize that a new technology is being adopted internally, you must immediately start conversations with your security organization to build guardrails that mitigate organizational risk in the right way. My use of “right” is important here. Overly restrictive governance is ultimately counter-productive because it often encourages the emergence of shadow IT. That’s the last thing your organization needs. It’s all about balance.
Conclusion: Embracing the end of “citizen development”
It’s here that I’m going to say something that may seem controversial, but really isn’t: I’m looking forward to a day when the term “citizen developer” disappears. If it does, then that means that we’ve succeeded at making citizen development a part of everyone’s job. And that’s a future worth building.