Forex technology
Citizen developers can be molded to serve specific purposes, and without getting in the way of a tech system's integrity. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Today’s economies – national, regional – are melding to become global because of digitisation. But to take full advantage of this, nations and their businesses must be agile. Customers can be anywhere, as can employees. To operate competitively in such an environment, organisations must empower employees with the digital tools they need, as and when they need them. The digital enterprise must become an app factory.

Some of the region’s business stakeholders have grasped this, but they must confront a skills gap. If an employee spots an opportunity to streamline a process, their potentially value-adding idea may have to join a long queue of pending change requests, as the IT department only has so many coders on hand to help.

The UAE National Program for Coders is one initiative launched to resolve this shortage. It aims to issue 100,000 Golden Visas and create 1,000 digital companies to plug skills gaps and keep companies innovating.

While this program and others are designed to attract or train professional coders, there is an alternative. What if the employee with the streamlining idea could make it happen on his or her own? Through Low-Code and No-Code (LCNC) platforms – intuitive visual tools that allow app development through familiar drag-and-drop interaction – non-technical employees can become ‘citizen developers’.

They know the issue they are trying to solve. Even if IT is available to take it on, the project would have to go through a thorough requirements-gathering analysis before design and implementation. Citizen developers can hop straight to the design phase.

Just in time

While citizen developers will be of greatest benefit to enterprises, they can also prove immensely helpful to SMEs. There were 350,000 SMEs in the UAE as of mid-2020. They constitute 94 per cent of all private enterprises in the nation and employ 86 per cent of its workforce.

As companies grow beyond start-up and SME status, Low-Code and No-Code can serve a dual purpose. It can alleviate the workload on IT and allow professional developers to implement complex solutions more quickly. This is resource optimization at its most potent. Quick-win projects that shorten and simplify workflows, increase accuracy, or reduce costs can be overseen by citizen developers. And because business analysis is being done by end users, the product is more likely to perform as intended.

The resistance

But as with any emerging paradigm, resistance will come. IT leaders may have concerns about governance. How will citizen developers be able to deliver working artifacts with due consideration for integration, security, and maintenance?

The good news is that the answers to those issues are already present in many LCNC platforms, which offer management dashboards to allow IT professionals to assess and approve apps before they are released into the wild. In essence, this means the IT department has grown and become capable of delivering many more apps and solutions than before without having to find IT skills in the market.

Buy-in from IT leaders is further guaranteed by LCNC’s potential to significantly reduce the prevalence of shadow IT – which in the remote-working world has reared its head anew to become yet another headache for IT. The chances of employees installing unauthorised apps when they can enjoy the challenge of creating their own and submitting them for formal approval are not zero, but they are greatly reduced. And in the battle against shadow IT, every little helps.

A licence to innovate is an enhancement to the employee experience, and along with that experience is the necessary step of submitting work for inspection. Best practices can then be exercised across the organisation and IT will retain full visibility.

Meanwhile, citizen developers that find an issue with a deployed solution can fix it without raising a support ticket, further alleviating the IT department’s work burden.

Train - and train again

While not everyone in the line of business or IT will instantly warm to the idea of citizen developers, enough advocates will likely be found to drive the new approach forward. Employees are, in the main, open to learning new skills if only to improve their employability and value. Another valuable aspect of LCNC platforms is that once a citizen developer becomes proficient, they can train others.

They can even be trained in security best practices, as most of these do not require explicit coding to implement. While security training may need to be undertaken by professional coders at first, veteran citizen developers will eventually be able to pass on this knowledge. But IT will need to maintain its involvement in the training process. Changes to core systems and business processes, as well as the emergence of new software capabilities and technologies will need to be accounted for in no-code and low-code development training to ensure that citizen developers are always aligned with best practices.

Customers and employees have expectations and there are good business reasons to deliver in line with those demands. In a shallow talent pool, regional organisations must look elsewhere for the capabilities to meet the rising hunger for always-on, efficient, accurate digital solutions.

The citizen developer saves time and reduces costs. They ensure a greater success rate in many projects. They enjoy a better employee experience while helping enhance the experience of others – overworked IT staff, impatient customers, and more.

Taken together, these benefits spell competitiveness of businesses, and thereby a nation’s digital economy in the short and long term.