5 Steps To Scale IT With Citizen Development: An IT Playbook

February 11, 2023
February 17, 2022
min read
5 Steps To Scale IT With Citizen Development: An IT Playbook

Many people think citizen development is only useful for nontechnical teams. But citizen development can also be a boon for IT.

Here’s how.

IT has a very important job. It needs to enable the business to operate efficiently and creatively across functions and processes. It needs to preserve the integrity (and compliance) of the technology stack and company data. It is also tasked with creating new technological and process-oriented solutions to meet agreed-upon service level agreements (SLAs) and to drive innovation in the product and company as a whole.

The problem IT faces is that it does not have what it needs for success. Consider the resources at IT’s disposal for purposes of business enablement. When the business needs a solution to a business problem, IT has two primary options. IT departments either: 1) buy packaged, task-specific apps for the business; or 2) develop custom solutions themselves.

Both options are costly, and often inadequate. Custom solutions can take 6–9 months (or more) to build and require long-term maintenance after deployment — which, all told, is a massive expenditure of IT time and energy.

Purchased apps, meanwhile, don’t always solve process challenges or increase efficiency, at least not in a manner that doesn’t compromise IT’s governance over the tech stack. They’re too functionally specific.

They also necessitate users to learn how to navigate a new user interface. Further, purchased apps are incapable of powering processes end-to-end, creating damaging Last Mile problems that require manual work (on the part of IT) to fix.

In Tonkean’s 2021 State of Operations survey, in which we surveyed 500 enterprise business operations and IT professionals, only 24% of respondents reported that their current tech stack — composed of apps both purchased and custom-built — “satisfies all their operational needs.” And worse still, 82% of IT respondents believe their organization uses too many apps.

All of this not only stretches IT thin, it turns IT into a bottleneck, reducing the speed and agility of the organization overall.

IT knows what it needs to do to solve this problem: scale itself, so that it can better enable the business, drive operational change, focus more completely on innovation and agility in their own right, and ultimately accelerate the pace of development across the company.

The question is: how?

The answer: go beyond business enablement to business empowerment, facilitated by enterprise-grade citizen development.

By reducing the technical barriers to custom development and expanding the pie of who can build software, IT can better serve their business customers, increase business agility, and accelerate innovation.

There are, however, important considerations that should be made in order to properly enable citizen development while at the same time ensuring enterprise needs like governance, security, and maintenance.

Below are the five steps IT can take to enable citizen development at scale.

Step #1: Embrace “makers” and rethink what enabling the business with citizen development truly means

Key to all the strategies that follow is embracing a certain mindset shift. The shift centers around the way we think of the people we’re talking about when we talk about empowering “the business.”

There is a common understanding (often unwarranted) among IT that empowering the business comes with inherent, and significant, risks. Business users don’t have the same technical acumen as IT, and thus could “break things” if given too much power or autonomy (i.e. mishandle sensitive data, create an app that breaks under heavier usage, etc.).

However, there is a tremendous amount of untapped potential in business empowerment, specifically if you focus on enabling those people that are building the business processes, managing the technology, and engaging with business end users on a daily basis. Think: operations teams, business analysts, process excellence teams, and more.

At Tonkean, we call these users “makers.” They’re capable of driving tons of innovation and creating lots of value for their organizations, primarily because they understand the intricacies of business processes even more deeply than most people in the enterprise, including IT. However, they likely don’t know how to code. And currently, that’s what sidelines them.

It also hamstrings IT.

Because every time a new business need arises or a process changes, no matter how minute, these makers must knock on IT’s door to address that new need or change. This adds a plethora of low-level, menial requests to the IT backlog that must be addressed right away, distracting IT from more strategic projects or architectural initiatives.

The mindset we encourage IT departments to have, then, is this: to enable the business—and, in turn, scale IT’s capacity—means giving the business more technological and procedural self determination. Business empowerment isn’t something to be afraid of or shy away from, but rather something to be embraced.

So how can you make this shift quickly, without introducing more risks? Before investing in a platform to help facilitate this technological empowerment, you need to determine what kind of support makers truly need.

Step #2: Use citizen development to create a bridge between IT and the business

You know you need to empower your makers, but, how can you give the makers inside your organization more agency? How can you truly empower them safely and in a manner that in turn empowers IT to focus more holistically on other priorities? (Hint: it doesn’t mean letting business completely run on their own without IT oversight and support.)

Answering these questions starts with defining the right roles and responsibilities for both IT and business users. What are the things that IT and business should respectively be focused on?

Strategic IT organizations are able to turn their use of technology into a competitive differentiator. Their expertise lies in understanding how to apply various systems and tools in a way that could provide additional revenue opportunities, increase efficiency, or lower cost.

Business teams, and more specifically business operations teams, are domain experts, versed in how to best meet the needs of their function as well as end users. As such, their focus is on applying the right processes with the right business rules to maximize outcomes.

Today, these lines are often blurred—to the detriment of both business and IT. As mentioned earlier, changes to business processes often need to be made by IT, because only they can implement those changes in the underlying systems supporting those processes. In addition to taking IT away from their strategic focus, it also reduces business agility; IT becomes the bottleneck as only they have the skills to make the changes.

In empowering makers, you want to create a structure that allows IT to focus on the technological components of business solutions and allows business to be more hands-on in managing the business logic of how these solutions are applied.

One way to do that is with no-code.

Part of the power and promise of citizen development is the way it effectively outsources the creation and management of business logic to the business, but safely.

Such enablement increases by an order of magnitude what the average enterprise is able to accomplish. It’s a means of tapping into and harnessing the expertise and creative capacity of the users most intimate with the problems they’re trying to solve. As Amit Zavery, VP and Head of Platform for Google Cloud, wrote last year, “When the ability to create business applications is extended beyond IT to the people closest to the challenges…the speed at which a business can move and the number of people working on solutions can both increase dramatically.”

Step #3: Build components on top of your existing technology stack

How do you create a structure that allows IT to focus on the technological components of business solutions and allows the business to be more hands-on in managing the business logic determining how these solutions are applied?

The best way is to extend a concept already common in development: composability. To enable development to occur in less-technical developers, IT must curate a set of technical “building blocks.” This allows for solution creation without getting into the minutiae of how those technical components are built and allows IT to create a governance structure around these components. These components must be modular, defined by reusable capabilities that business teams can use to supplement business logic and build workflow solutions.

You can think of such technical components as a set of Lego blocks that business users—or, citizen developers—can use to facilitate the creation of new software simply by connecting them together in different ways.

These building blocks can assume a variety of forms to meet the varying needs of the business. They can be API connections bridging existing cloud systems or they can be RPA bots that automate interactions with legacy systems. They can be chatbots that interface with multiple communication platforms—Slack, MS Teams, email—allowing for more seamless collaboration and connections between enterprise systems and people.  

The key aspect is that these building blocks offload the more innately technical demands of solution architecture so that business users don’t even have to think about that stuff.

Rather, in designing and deploying their own internal solutions, built with their unique understanding of the problems they’re trying to solve, they can simply select the building block that does the function the solution calls for and go from there.

To this end, these building blocks need to be flexible. The more flexible, the better, because almost every business process implicates multiple different systems and leans upon many different tools—and thus every workflow solution designed to improve business processes must be capable of interacting with those systems and tools.

Here’s the good news: every enterprise has many of these components built already. Many of the prerequisites, such as APIs, RPA bots, application components, etc., have already been deployed within most organizations. The key is in allowing these components to be better leveraged by makers, the citizen developers who understand the business processes better than anyone.

Once you begin enabling makers to leverage these components, the benefits will accumulate quickly. Over time, they’ll prove immense, going beyond business enablement and beginning to turn enterprises into something different entirely.

Gartner calls it “The Composable Enterprise” — or, an enterprise able to “deliver innovation quickly” by reassembling “capabilities from inside and outside the enterprise.” This is an enterprise in which every element is integrated and accessible, where every tech tool or system can be utilized for creating more powerful and efficient workflows and solutions. Not only does this lay the foundation for business empowerment; composability also accelerates IT development. All told, it’s an enterprise with fewer bottlenecks choking IT’s ability to empower the business or the business’s ability to drive outcomes.

For the rest of the 5 steps—and to learn more about how citizen development and composability can help your IT department scale—download the full IT Playbook.

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