Citizen developers are taking on more of the heavy lifting of enterprise applications

'We need the ability now to re-harvest and centralize user-built innovations. You can imagine how much effort that could be for an IT organization, so we really have to think about that, and how we can scale it.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

We see it all around us: Qualified developers are hard to find, and those working at organizations are busier than ever. Today's enterprise developers not only need to build and maintain critical applications, but also play a more visible consulting role in the business. 

That's why it's critical to shift development work to citizen developers, according to Karen Odegaard, managing director of global IT for Accenture. "IT organizations today have a lot of unmet demand," she explained in a recent podcast. "We're seeing that when citizen developers have [the power to create their apps], they can create solutions 10 times faster than if they were relying on central IT solution delivery. There are great advantages for the people creating these apps as well as for IT organizations." 

There are important advantages to going to IT organizations, Odegaard said. "You're getting people closest to the problem to solve them. so you don't need IT to translate it. And you are likely creating solutions for problems that would have never hit IT's radar. and we're also as an IT organization, getting visibility to that. It's arming us with knowledge to better solve for our people across the enterprise." 

For IT, "this is a shift in typically how we do application development," she continued. "So we need to shift in how we think about compliance, and governance for technology to the platform level, rather than the app level, which is where we put most of the focus today." 

In addition, there will ultimately need to be ways to reuse and repurpose citizen-built apps across the enterprise, to avoid a glut or sprawl of such apps clogging up systems and networks. "We need the ability now to re-harvest and centralize user-built innovations," Odegaard said. "You can imagine how much effort that could be for an IT organization, so we really have to think about that, and how we can scale it."

Accenture itself now has a stable of 14,000 user-created applications, according to Odegaard. One example is a team that put together a compliance application. Odegaard said that the team "took a very disparate and complex process, and put a rules engine over it to simplify it for their team. and as a result, they're seeing a reduction of 75% of security-related incidents within their organization." 

Another example at Accenture is a team that created a Power app for the data that leaders needed to see on the go.

A key lesson learned from these activities is to create applications with value. "We had to have a narrow set of use cases to target our citizen developer platform," Odegaard said. "It becomes a harder decision on what should live on each of the platforms we have within our organization." Licensing implications also come to the fore, especially with tens of thousands of applications now being supported, she adds.

To encourage the growth of user-built applications, Odegaard urges that proponents "show the user population real-life examples of how easy it can be, that anyone can do it." Technology will also play a role in increasing adoption. "Self-service robotic process automation is going to have huge advantages for our workforce, allowing people to automate manual tasks themselves."

From a citizen developer perspective, "the ability to design and create app experiences faster than ever means that they're gaining valuable time back. They're now automating their work. For high-value resources such as our developers and architects, we're freeing them up to focus on the more complex solutions that drive enterprise value."

Remember, as well, professional developers themselves can use low-code and no-code solutions to speed up their software delivery work. 

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