What is a citizen developer?

Timothy Harfield, 3 minutes read

A citizen developer is (a) a non-IT stakeholder who (b) creates and maintains new applications for their own use, either by themselves or for their work group, (c) using low-code development environments sanctioned and supported by corporate IT. 

Let’s unpack that. 

(a) a non-IT stakeholder

A citizen developer (or what we at Pega call a ‘maker’) is not a full-time low-code developer. They are not part of the IT organization or involved in scrum teams. Although they may eventually decide that they like low-code development so much that they want to make a career out of it, most citizen developers are simply looking to increase their effectiveness in their current role, whether that be in marketing, sales, operations, HR, or someplace else. 

There is one exception to this rule. There are some cases in which a professional developer might ALSO serve as a citizen developer, if the applications that they are developing are outside of an official IT project and are designed to improve their team’s effectiveness. In this case, a professional developer is building low-code applications as if they were a citizen developer, even though they are also working on approved IT projects in the role of a professional developer. 

(b) who creates and maintains new applications for their own use, either by themselves or for their work group 

A citizen developer is both the maker and the one who realizes the value of the applications they create. They are not creating applications for other people unless those other people are members of the same work group and are realizing the value of citizen-developed applications alongside the maker themselves. 

It’s also important to note that a citizen developer doesn’t just create applications but is also responsible for release management and ongoing maintenance. At some point a citizen-developed app might grow in complexity and criticality such that it makes sense to transition ownership of the application to Enterprise IT, but until that time it is the maker themselves who carries responsibility for application roadmap, bug fixes, etc. This is just one of many reasons that citizen development programs make so much sense, because they allow applications to proliferate without significantly increasing IT burden.

(c) using low-code development environments sanctioned and supported by corporate IT 

If you are a non-IT stakeholder creating applications for yourself and your workgroup, but are using tools that are not fully sanctioned and governed by enterprise IT, you are NOT a citizen developer. You are ‘shadow IT.’ 

Shadow IT is a concern for companies because it introduces a myriad of problems in several areas including security, visibility (through the creation of data silos), and reliability. Shadow IT emerges when business units become frustrated by a perceived lack of responsiveness from IT.  The business needs to be agile, and the needs of individual units are felt deeply. Yet, the needs of individuals and individual units may find themselves deprioritized when compared to more critical projects. This is the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for those with seemingly simple requests that just never seem to be addressed. 

It can be tempting for businesses to try to bypass IT by licensing low-code solutions independently. But this creates a patchwork of separate, disjointed systems and is not sustainable in the long run. It introduces risk and cost and leads to poor customer and employee experiences.   

What IS sustainable is for business and IT to come together with the right tools, processes, and people, and for them to agree upon a common low-code platform to support citizen development. This allows IT to automate governance using templates that not only empower users, but also assure enterprise IT that citizen developers will meet company requirements around capacity, security, and reliability. 

Photo displays Pega App Factory and Pega App Studio interfaces

Pega Platform is the only enterprise-grade low-code development environment – capable of addressing small, simple workloads and seamlessly scaling to meet the most complex challenges. Using Pega App Studio and Pega App Factory, Pega empowers makers to increase their effectiveness today. And because they are building on the Pega Platform, if that citizen-developed application increases in complexity and criticality over time, it can easily be ‘graduated’ to full IT ownership without sacrificing features or requiring a rebuild, (something not possible with other low-code platforms) 

Recommended Resources:

To learn more about citizen development and how your organization can get started, check out our eBook: Building your Low-Code Factory: A Best Practices Kit for Success.

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About the Author

Timothy Harfield, Ph.D., is Senior Director of community engagement for Intelligent Automation at Pega.