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Leveraging Citizen Development Within the Organization

Citizen developers play a crucial role in controlling an organization’s application development efforts. Peer Connect members provide a guide on how to optimize citizen development and maximize the organization’s efficiency rate. 


A Peer Connect member is looking for suggestions to handle the increasing number of applications being developed by their business users. As his organization starts their journey to figure out how to help and not hinder citizen development, he is seeking recommendations and success stories from peers who have faced similar challenges while embracing these applications and their creators. 

Peer Strategies 

Organizations are now seeing a rise in business-led IT spending due to the increased development of applications, which has led to a surge in active citizen development or shadow IT initiatives. They are looking to mitigate shadow IT risks and work with citizen developers to create a safe and trustworthy environment. 

In this regard, a peer says that shadow IT has been around for a long time and it is spreading fast across organizations due to the cloud (SaaS) initiatives, which has made it easy for businesses to bypass IT and governance. He recommends that the practical approach will be to contain it rather than resist it. 

Benefits and Challenges of Shadow IT 

A peer says that shadow IT from business users or lines of business is a huge challenge for their organization. Their organization, which works in the banking sector, has faced the following situations in the past: 

  • “Applications that became critical for a group of business users. However, the application could not scale for more users or requires fine-tuning or even nightly support.” 
  • “Applications that could contain confidential information but are not properly secured.” 
  • “Applications that expect to retrieve information from other applications using screen-scrapping technology.” 

While the peer highlights the challenges of shadow IT development above, he adds that it is necessary to learn how to control it. In the peer’s organization, shadow IT was being used for: 

  1. Computer programming languages 
  1. Spreadsheets that look like an application 
  1. Local providers hired by business users to build web applications hosted outside the organization’s infrastructure 

He says, “It is somewhat difficult to detect those developments. More than once, they were completely justified by the fact that starting a ‘real’ project requires so many people and costs so much, that going with shadow IT makes more sense.” 

The peer adds that it all depends on the nature of the applications being developed outside a “normalized world.” For his organization, the answer was simple and included convincing everyone that shadow IT is not the best approach most of the time. The organization was dealing with sensitive client information and it is better to be cautious with those precious assets. 

Another peer agrees with the sentiments shared above on shadow IT and the challenges around the sustainability of these disparate solutions, along with associated data/information risks. However, the peer also recognizes the benefits of this. He says that a robust citizen development culture can help offload some of the work that traditional IT organizations no longer have the capacity to do. A few things that his organization has done include: 

  • Standardize technology: “Actively promote applications for low-code environments targeting the IT savvy business users/citizen developers. While it is still maturing and comes with its own challenges, this is a much better option than other computer programming languages. The platform also supports our data management strategy as we work to eliminate data silos, promote data reusability and improve data security at source.” 
  • Develop a training program specifically targeting citizen developers: “Providing how-to, guardrails (both technical: what to do/what not to do; and data/contents: what data can/should be exposed and how to manage it), assisting the citizen developers with a simple assessment of what they should do and when to call for help. The overall objective of helping them creates a more robust/sustainable solution with little or no help from IT.” 

According to the peer, the following steps have led to a strong uptake with several solutions being brought to production by citizen developers. He adds that there is much to learn on how this will change the roles of traditional IT and benefit the enterprise in the long run. 

Governance and Usage of Citizen Development 

A key aspect of citizen development is to ensure organizations educate and empower their developers. A peer says that the first consideration is “know where the data is mastered.” The peer recommends that if it is reference data, it must be correct so that all consumers can use it. “The next consideration is governance where it matters — if people are customizing an application that is mission critical then it should be governed. If it is just for them, then you might never know if it is being used,” the peer adds. 

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