Here's How You Can Support Your Citizen Developers
Look around the enterprise and you can still find shadow IT lingering throughout, although it might be in a new form. In addition to grabbing the latest cloud applications to solve work challenges, employees are now using approved tools to build their own applications for unexpected purposes. These include:
- Desktop applications such as MS Excel and MS Access.
- Applications developed in SharePoint.
- Localized robotic process automation (RPA) installations.
Unfortunately, these employee-built, locally developed applications (LDAs) do not always meet key security requirements. Citizen developers and organizations often fail to adequately maintain LDAs over time, making them even riskier to leave in the wild. Organizations need to understand the challenges their employees are trying to solve, show them the risks in their approach, and provide a practical means to allow the citizen developers to solve the problem at hand.
Educate Citizen Developers on the Risks
Many citizen developers are simply trying to create tools to help them do their jobs and are unaware of the risks involved. The most obvious risk is security. Sensitive information may be collected on the local computer, outside the secure confines of the enterprise infrastructure. Additionally, authentication may be embedded within the LDAs, opening that information to potential compromise. If the LDA is shared, there's the risk that a single person’s credentials may accompany the application.
Citizen developers rarely fully understand the complete data set. Labels in enterprise applications do not always match the underlying data structure. I’ve seen reports misdirected because the “owner” field displayed on the screen was different than the “owner” field stored in the database. While that mistake could be harmless, there are many situations where that is not the case.
If multiple employees try to build the same solution, the challenges grow exponentially. In addition to the all of the above security risks, there are operational risks due to multiple developers creating different answers for the same question. Additionally, the time each employee spends developing is duplicated effort, even if the applications in question are perfect in every way.
Finally, the risks are in the unknown. Without visibility, IT cannot measure, much less manage, the risk.
Related Article: An Enterprise-Wide Approach to No-Code Development
Create a Governance Plan
Having employees creating rogue LDAs is an opportunity for the organization. Every LDA developer has shown the desire and invested time in solving an important problem. When you factor in the overlapping time investment in similar LDAs, there are enough potential citizen developers to address some of the challenges within the organization.
How to Future-Proof Your Employee Experience Strategy in 2023
A framework to navigate through economic uncertainty
The Essential Role of Communicators in Fostering Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace
Join us for practical insights on how digital communicators can support employees to thrive in the digital workplace
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
The Evolution of Employee Recognition
Leveraging the power of appreciation to improve the employee experience
How to Build a More Innovative and Resilient Workplace Culture
What would happen if every member of your team came to work focused on finding solutions and creating better results?
However, those budding citizen developers need help. They need guidance. They need access to good low-code/no-code platforms and the training to use them properly. After updated applications are developed and validated as secure, they need a way for other employees to leverage the application. IT needs to take on the long-term support of these applications to allow employees to focus on what they do best: delivering on the organization’s goals.
For employees that fully engage in the role of a citizen developer, consider allowing them to do more. Have them help mentor others looking to develop their own applications. See if they are open to enhancing their own solutions to meet related needs.
Related Article: Low Code Unleashed: 3 Winning Strategies to Make It Work for You
Have a Plan for Low-Code/No-Code Development
There are a lot of low-code/no-code vendors out there — UIPath, ServiceNow, Microsoft, Salesforce, Pega and Appian to name a few. You likely already have one or more of these platforms in your enterprise. If your existing in-house platforms aren't meeting the needs of your citizen developers, consider adding a platform after you have maximized your current investments.
Most importantly, create a governance plan. Proper governance can accelerate the development of applications by citizen developers while providing them with the guardrails needed to do so correctly. Employees are going to find a way to automate their routine with or without your help. Existing LDAs prove that. If you can make it easier for employees to do the routine things, then they can focus on the analytical thinking that makes them valuable.
Whether it is preventing a new security threat or a bad decision based on bad data, IT organizations need to embrace an approach to providing employees with the tools for them to do their job. Locking things down to prevent LDAs from being created simply forces employees to move their hand-crafted solutions to a new, ungoverned tool.
Learn how you can join our contributor community.
About the Author
Laurence Hart is a director of consulting services at CGI Federal, with a focus on leading digital transformation efforts that drive his clients’ success. A proven leader in content management and information governance, Laurence has over two decades of experience solving the challenges organizations face as they implement and deploy information solutions.