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What is a citizen developer?

Timothy Harfield, 6 minute read

As a concept, 'citizen development' is incredibly broad.  According to Gartner, "A citizen developer is an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units. A citizen developer is a persona, not a title or targeted role. They report to a business unit or function other than IT." For many, such a broad definition can be worrisome because it serves to legitimize even the kind of low-code development approaches that have traditionally been called 'Shadow IT.'  Just because a tool is not forbidden by IT doesn't mean that it is actively supported.  An if it's not actively supported by IT, then so-called citizen development efforts that make use of the tool have the potential to exacerbate antagonisms between business and IT in ways that actually prevent the full realization of low-code's potential.

Where business and IT are not aligned, organizations run the following risks:

  • Increased spend from redundancy and lost economies of scale.
  • Increased security risks from misconfiguration.
  • Regulatory fines from non-compliance with laws and policies.
  • Lack of communication and cooperation across departments because of differences in technology ecosystems.
  • Unforeseen support issues since corporate IT may not be aware of, or trained on, shadow technologies.
  • Decreased agility to respond to threats and opportunities due to lack of transparency and data silos.
  • Increased maintenance problems from apps orphaned through staffing changes and lack of ownership.

In order to mitigate these risks by encouraging strong cooperation in citizen development efforts, Pega prefers the term "Pega Maker," which we think of as (a) a non-IT stakeholder who (b) creates and maintains new applications for their own use, either by themselves or as part of a work group, (c) using low-code development environments sanctioned and supported by corporate IT

Let’s unpack that. 


(a) a non-IT stakeholder

A Pega 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 Makers 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 Maker, 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 Maker, 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 as part of a work group 

A Maker 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 Maker-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 Maker-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 Low-code Factory 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 may be a citizen developer in Gartner's sense, but you are NOT a Pega Maker.

Misalignment between business and 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. What is commonly referred to as '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 business units 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.

Don't Forget 

About the Author

Timothy Harfield, Ph.D., is Senior Director of Product Strategy and Marketing for Intelligent Automation Pega. 

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