Est. reading time: 7 minutes
Author: Will Harris
Citizen developers are not developers by trade but still make useful tools and applications with no-code tools. The concept is relatively new and has gained momentum in the last few years. Citizen Development has the potential to be of great benefit to the manufacturing industry by empowering ordinary staff to improve the processes they work with every day. Their unique perspectives can be transformative in identifying key areas to work on and improve.
I’m not going to assume that the term ‘citizen developer’ is well known or commonly understood. It’s a concept that you may not have heard of but it has gained some momentum over the last few years. In this piece, I’ll briefly explain what a citizen developer is before exploring what value they can bring to manufacturing.
What is a citizen developer?
A citizen developer is not a developer by trade, but still develops applications. This is done with no-code or low-code tools. These tools allow people to develop applications and tools without knowing how to code or with limited knowledge. Gartner’s definition of 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.
As their primary role is not IT-related, they will have a rich understanding of their own area of work within a company. This expertise gives them an advantage when developing applications for their own personal use and for others working in the same area. The insights gained from years of experience support the development of useful applications that help boost efficiency, often more so than apps developed by IT experts.
What’s the big deal?
It was never possible for non-technical people to develop apps before the advent of no-code and low-code tools. Any apps or tools that had to be developed within companies were created by IT departments, some of which work in silos from the rest of the business. No code technologies are opening a lot of doors for businesses and the possibilities are huge with many remarkable use cases some of which I have outlined below.
The low/no-code market is exploding and it’s expected to grow 23% this year and exceed $45B by 2025. Increasingly businesses are beginning to take full advantage of what the technology offers. You’ll be hearing about these a lot more over the next few years.
Citizen development in manufacturing
As an industry focused on maximising efficiency, citizen development offers a wonderful opportunity for manufacturing. Whether for improving back-room operations or streamlining processes on the factory floor, countless areas can be improved using targeted tools and applications.
Some big manufacturers are delivering fantastic results with citizen development and here are three great examples:
- Schneider Electric set up a digital factory where they were able to launch 60 apps in 20 months, with the help of a third party. Most apps were delivered in just 10 weeks. 1
- Oxford Superconducting Technology, a subsidiary of Bruker, adopted preventive maintenance tools in 30 days that would have usually taken 3 months and multiple developers to implement. 2
- Toyota needed to address efficiency and innovation needs throughout the business, without heavy IT involvement. Using Microsoft Power Apps, they empowered their employees to develop over 400 apps. These apps are used by groups ranging from small, specialised teams to teams of thousands, driving powerful change in a company already renowned for its commitment to continuous improvement. 3
Citizen development is now a valid form of development and can help businesses to innovate faster. For many it is the way of the future. I was struck by this quote from Joe McNamara, the Director for Global IT at Kraft Heinz who was asked in an interview what he saw as the greatest areas of opportunity in AI for the company. His thought-provoking response was:
Once the foundation is set, the real exciting future in the next year or two is actually enabling the business users, with the tools and skill-sets, to have them mine and play with the data and generate their own AI-enabled solutions that can drive benefits that meet their business objectives. It’s already well underway at Kraft Heinz but it’s growing like wildfire. I think the self-service enablement of advanced analytics is very big.
There are many areas of expertise and specialisms in manufacturing and this can make it particularly difficult for IT teams to know exactly how to develop tools for each specific area. This is often paired with the fact that IT staff are usually too busy with priority work on current systems and security.
Imagine, under the governance of IT, giving the right tools and training to the wide range of professionals working in a manufacturing business. These can include the process engineers, analysts, technicians, quality managers, administrators, and business users. Many of these deal with various forms of data every day and make informed decisions based on these. And considering the current shortages of experienced developers, this could be a great way for manufacturers to improve efficiency for a fraction of the cost.
Previously, non-tech workers who identified potential process improvements or opportunities for automation would have had to get IT involved, put a business case together, spend time gathering requirements, and more. This is often costly and wastes time. Many solutions do not require major development and these are perfect opportunities for staff to develop their own applications.
What are the benefits?
There are many reasons to encourage citizen development within your team and I’ve put together five of the best.
1. Specialised knowledge and expertise
As said above, the knowledge built from working in a specialised role supplies great insights into processes. IT staff can’t have a complete understanding of every area of an organisation. Citizen developers can use their knowledge and expertise to create apps that help streamline processes familiar to them.
2. Saves IT resources
IT staff usually have a lot on their plate. Citizen development frees up IT staff time to focus on the projects that deliver the most value. The understanding citizen developers usually have of their own specialisms in a business also mean their applications can address specific problems or needs. This can help save considerable time and staff resources.
3. Removes silos
The cooperation needed between IT teams and citizen developers could help break down the silos that sometimes exist between IT and the rest of a business.
4. Empowers staff to make a difference
The responsibility of making applications that make a real difference to business performance could have a powerful effect on the confidence of many workers. This would not only help them feel more involved in the success of a business but could be an incentive to continue doing similar work. If applications are successful, the citizen developer’s colleagues would not only be grateful but could feel empowered to create apps of their own.
5. Democratises development
Development is a mysterious thing to many non-technical people. They associate it with code, which they often have little to no understanding of. The thought of making apps that make their working life easier is something most people haven’t thought of. Low-code and no-code tools are changing this through truly democratising development. For the first time ever, people with no knowledge of code can make applications tailored to their needs. The opportunities this opens are enormous and going into the future we are likely to see huge growth in the area.
Citizen development offers a wealth of opportunities to the manufacturing industry. If employees become aware of accessible tools that can make their jobs easier and free up time for high value tasks, then some would be sure to take advantage of it.
The reality is development of any sort can be quite an intimidating concept to a lot of people. Raising awareness of no-code and low-code tools is a step toward removing this barrier. If IT staff and senior management are willing to encourage citizen development this should help staff gain the confidence needed to try it out.
Here at Nightingale HQ we have a range of no-code tools based on Microsoft technologies. The GoSmarter toolbox is designed to help manufacturers automate processes from the backroom to the factory floor. Each tool allows you to get started without entering a single line of code. If that sounds good to you check out our GoSmarter In a Day workshops. We can get you up and running fast while teaching the practical skills you’ll need to maintain the tools long term.