Citizen Development: Definition, Benefits and Implementation

As organizations ramp up their digital transformation efforts to keep up with competitors, IT teams are facing increasing pressure to deliver new business applications. Software developers with the knowledge required to build applications from scratch are in high demand - and organizations are struggling to find the right candidates amid a global industry shortage.

Suffice to say, there’s a high price to pay if you’re lacking tech talent. Software solutions can’t be built, implemented, and maintained at the pace or scale your business might need. In this kind of environment, IT backlogs can quickly spiral and digital transformation efforts can grind to a halt. But there’s an answer to this lack of software specialists. Citizen development.

According to Gartner, 41% of employees outside of IT are now involved in either building or customizing technology solutions for their organization. The analyst predicts that half of all new low-code clients will come from business buyers who are outside the IT organization by the end of 2025.


What is citizen development?

By 2023, Gartner predicts that the number of active citizen developers at large enterprises will be at least four times the number of professional developers. Given the challenges outlined above, that’s a very necessary evolution.

Citizen development allows non-IT employees to build business applications with low- and no-code platforms. In turn, they can improve business processes that free up the IT team to focus on more business-critical activities.

Good citizen development programs are an essential means of delivering the benefits of digital transformation, leading to happier employees who are empowered to make substantial changes based on their expertise as well as making productivity gains and improving customer experiences.


What is a citizen developer?

A citizen developer is a business user, usually with little or no coding expertise, who is able to develop their own applications, for the use of others or themselves, by leveraging easy-to-use software, such as low-code or no-code platforms.

It’s important to note that citizen developers should be subject matter experts. They’ll know exactly how a process/area within your business works, and have the insight to improve it. They simply need the right IT tools to develop a solution. There are also different types of citizen developer with their own needs, skills and experiences.


What makes a good citizen developer?



What are the benefits of citizen development?

There are a whole host of reasons to start a citizen development program:

1. Accelerates time-to-market 
Things change quickly. To get out ahead of your competitors you always need to be on the lookout for ways to release new products and services quickly to meet changing needs and seize new opportunities. Citizen development helps you speed up product development so you can get things to market before the competition. 

2. Increases innovation
By upskilling your team with a citizen development program, you drive innovation by making it everyone’s prerogative. Rather than relying on busy IT teams to build, test and implement new ideas, no- and low-code tools mean your citizen developers can innovate and help design new apps with ease. 

3. Increases agility 
App development used to take weeks or even months. But with citizen development you can start testing new ideas within days. By using intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces and wizards to guide the development process, business users can build enterprise-grade apps easily without slowing down other areas of the business. This means you can adapt quickly to new challenges or seize new opportunities.  

4. Reduces costs 
No- and low-code platforms mean citizen developers can create apps in less time with less budget. It means you can do much more in-house, using existing resources and employees, rather than outsourcing work, taking on more developers, or buying third-party apps.  

5. Takes the pressure off your IT team 
If your business is like most businesses, your IT team already has a lot of plates spinning — from maintaining your infrastructure to driving digital transformation goals. By putting app development largely in the hands of citizen developers, your expert developers can take a big step back — acting as collaborators when needed, and providing the advanced technical skills required to bring a project to completion. This shift in emphasis and responsibility means they’re freed up to focus on more complex projects.


What are the risks around citizen development?

One of the perceived barriers to citizen development is that it introduces too much risk to place development in the hands of employees outside IT who may not understand, for instance, issues around data security or integration.

In fact, with a good citizen development program you can mitigate all of these risks while also getting the benefit of closer collaboration between business departments and IT in alignment with broader goals.

Using the right no- or low-code platform gives your IT team the ability to set security standards for apps and what features will be available to users before non-developers get their hands on it. To do this well, you need strong collaboration between the users and the IT department to determine what kinds of challenges need solving and what will be required, so you can develop a robust framework for permissions and other requirements.

You can also lay out a process for deployment (from draft to pilot to published) which means you can have confidence in every new app that makes its way into a live environment.


What is the best way to find citizen developers?


Getting started with citizen development

Support citizen developers with a low-code automation platform

Citizen developers are often business users with an idea they want to action. Working in the trenches, they see first-hand what problems they and their colleagues experience day-to-day. But in the past, these business users would have to communicate the issue to IT and leave it with them to find and develop a solution.

Now, platforms that require little technical expertise to develop applications are available for business users to get hands-on and develop their own solutions without waiting for IT – who are therefore more able to focus on alternative priorities. 

For example, low-code automation platforms are designed to enable non-technical or semi-technical staff outside the IT organization to be involved in or lead automation and transformation projects, depending on requirements. Some business-friendly low-code tools are limited to simpler projects, but the most powerful tools are those that fit into this business-friendly category, but are also powerful enough to deliver against complex requirements.

At Deutsche Post DHL, they are enabling process analysts to develop their own workflows ready for automation with Bizagi. The Global Business Services team of the leading global logistics organization is working on digitizing and automating several processes, and have already seen great success with their Vendor Master Data Management Portal, a vital part of the procurement process which over 280,000 employees use. Using Bizagi, they were able to build a custom solution on Bizagi Sites, adding more complex elements when necessary.

“Bizagi allows us to implement more complex processes, interpreting really complex data input structures for users, but with a low-code approach,” said Stefan Wenzel, Head of ERP Platform Design and Digitalization. “What’s important to us is that we enable our process analysts to work at a very high level, especially in the area of workflow implementation. They can simply be faster with very little technology expertise.”


Enable citizen developers with support from IT

One of the major organizational benefits of citizen developers is that they can share the burden of development with IT by carrying out fewer technical development projects. However, it should be noted that business users shouldn’t be allowed to go rogue. This is sometimes seen in the form of Shadow IT, which can lead to ineffective working and applications that aren’t compliant and don’t follow best practices. Having the support of the IT function is vital if a citizen developer program is to succeed in your organization.

Low-code automation platforms are an effective way to avoid Shadow IT, as they offer a standardized approach to process modeling and automation, which means that business users can help themselves, while IT can rest happy in the knowledge that best practices are being followed on an approved secure platform.

It’s worth noting that low-code and no-code platforms won’t eliminate the need for developers. Having software and programs in place to enable citizen development allows companies to be more agile as more people can work to respond to customer or market needs through digitally-led operational change.

Using a low-code automation platform also empowers citizen developers to be more involved in business transformation. Using process as a common language, they can create their own processes and join in conversations about change in the form of process automation and application development.


Citizen development is the way to empower your whole workforce to drive your digital transformation efforts. Find out how Bizagi can support your citizen development program in our Bizagi Apps brochure.