The rise of the Citizen Developer

Gartner Research, never reluctant to make bold claims, released a press release that states that by 2014 25% of new business applications will be delivered by Citizen Developers. So let me start with a definition to get everybody on the same page.

Ci-ti-zen De-ve-lo-per

a user operating outside of the scope of enterprise IT and its governance who creates new business applications for consumption by others either from scratch or by composition.

"Future citizen-developed applications will leverage IT investments below the surface, allowing IT to focus on deeper architectural concerns, while end users focus on wiring together services into business processes and workflows," said Eric Knipp, senior research analyst at Gartner. "Furthermore, citizen development introduces the opportunity for end users to address projects that IT has never had time to get to - a vast expanse of departmental and situational projects that have lain beneath the surface."

According to Gartner the following trends are enabling Citizen Developers to build increasingly complex applications.

Mass Personalization

a digital citizen know how to personalize a solution to their own needs and preferences. Think of your facebook account; chances are that you have taken all the components facebook (or its partners) offer and composed this into a solution that meets your personal needs and interest. On a single platform there are 200 million different facebook solutions - all created by citizen developers!

Cloud Computing

In the old days you would need to set up your own servers/databases/network infrastructure before you could even start thinking about the actual application you were going to build. With the availability of ubiquitous resources in the cloud you can focus on the business functionality you want to deliver and not worry about the version of the database you need to install. A great book that helped me understand the impact of cloud computing before it was called cloud computing was "the Big Swith" by Nicalas Carr.

Changing demographics are resulting from the retirement of baby boomers, and the maturation of "digital natives" means that the workforce will expect technology to "just work." The consumerization of technology is not a trend for these people - it's a way of life.

Tool evolution as an result of the ongoing improvements of development tools and its ease of use Citizen Developers can build increasingly complex business applications with having to rely scarce IT resources.

Citizen development is not for all types of applications (I don't citizen developers should build accounting systems ) and not for every organization (if security/performance are critical). However in my opinion the vast majority of front office applications can be developed by Citizen Developers who know the needs and intricacies of their own organizations and processes better than any developer ever will.

Mr. Knipp explained that in the 1982 book "Applications Development Without Programmers,"

Better technology has also lowered the bar for becoming a developer, while at the same time, users have become less intimidated by technology, empowering citizen developers to do more than they ever could before. However, Mr. Knipp warned that organizations need to recognize the limits of citizen developers and differentiate between the types of applications that IT can afford to let go of and those that it needs to maintain and manage more formally.

"The bottom line lies in encouraging citizen developers to take on application development projects that free IT resources to work on more complex problems," said Mr. Knipp. "Citizen development skills are suited for creating situational and departmental applications like the ones often created in Excel or Access today. However, complex distributed applications and low-level, fine-grained developer decisions will remain in the hands of IT, while line-of-business applications will likely fit between the two and need to be carefully managed."

This article was originally published in The Citizen Developer.