Locks & Locksmiths: Opening the Door to Citizen Development

For any organization, the most powerful key to innovation lies within its people who come up with great ideas. However, people with brilliant ideas often encounter locked doors when trying to implement their concepts. Citizen Development acts as a master locksmith where non-IT employees use low-code/ no-code (LCNC) platforms to build software applications for business use by creating and customizing existing software programs to suit a user’s specific needs and improve operational efficiency. One of the biggest concerns around citizen development is when employees become amateur locksmiths, fashioning their own keys and solutions independently. When done well, citizen development has the power to ignite a creative storm and unlock their full potential.

The “Locks & Locksmith” series explores common challenges that make it difficult for customers to implement and take advantage of modern technology and provides practical tips and strategies to overcome these barriers to entry.

Agility and Innovation through Citizen Development 

Relying solely on traditional IT team models can no longer support the scale of development legerity and change responsiveness. Citizen development enables mission experts with the support system and tools necessary for hands-on solution development to expand the agency’s operational agility and restores emphasis on the value of the mission over the technology. Citizen developers are non-IT professionals equipped to create business applications and mission-edge solutions independent of the IT professions. By granting mission experts the autonomy to build solutions at the mission speed, agencies support current and emerging at the pace needed. The additive benefit is freeing enterprise IT teams to focus for sophisticated technical support without interfering with the mission drumbeat that demands need-based changes and automation which evolves daily.

The global shortage of software engineers may cross 85 million by 2030[1], which could result in an annual loss of over $8 trillion in income[2]

Citizen Development Accelerates Digital Transformation and Fosters Innovation

Citizen development supports a collaborative and inventive atmosphere. The process eliminates organizational walls and promotes a democratization of the innovation process by enabling staff members from all areas of the company to share their knowledge and ideas. The broader talent pool eventually speeds up the execution of digital transformation objectives by producing a wider variety of solutions that are specifically applicable to given business challenges.

Citizen development is essential for organizations to become more agile and innovative to speed up automation development time and reduce the burden on IT teams. Organizations that embrace citizen development give their people the necessary tools to overcome complex business, which fosters innovation and adaptation. This becomes a powerful distribution of responsibilities and elevation of digital dexterity across the entire workforce, enabling organizations to harness the collective knowledge and ingenuity of their employees. By empowering every individual to craft their own solutions, companies can foster a culture of continuous improvement, drive innovation from unexpected corners, and stay ahead of the curve in an ever-changing market.

Empowering everyone in the organization to build their own simple apps and automated workflows is easier said than done. Obstacles like a lack of technical expertise, risks of security issues, integration challenges, and governance disconnects are formidable locks blocking citizen development. So what can we do?

Overcoming Common Challenges 

The keys to unlock citizen development include providing comprehensive training, implementing robust security frameworks, fostering a culture of responsible innovation, and establishing clear guidelines.

According to Dimensional Research[3], over 70% of tech and business leaders acknowledged that their IT teams have a backlog of new tech solution requests that still need to be fulfilled. This bottleneck is attributed to various factors, including needing more qualified specialists and budgetary constraints. The survey highlights that existing resources are primarily dedicated to maintaining and modernizing the current IT infrastructure, leaving limited capacity for innovative initiatives.
♦ Technical Expertise at Limited Availability: Sarah is a Program Specialist at GSA’s Internal Directives Program within GSA’s Office of Administrative Services. She works with a team to prepare, draft, and facilitate the review of internal guidelines but finds progress slowed down by the manual coordination of reviews – which is about 1/5 of her tasks. Automating these cycles will expedite reviews when they’re ready in real-time but her requirements are too low priority for software teams to address LCNC platforms provide user-friendly interfaces and pre-built modules that allow users like Sarah to create custom solutions without extensive programming knowledge. She can take advantage of drag-and-drop features of existing platforms to customize workflows, set parameter-based notifications, and even create apps to improve the review process and give her a day back weekly!
♦ Security Concerns: Shadow IT is problematic because it can introduce vulnerabilities and expose citizens’ data to the risk of breaches because it lacks proper safeguards and governance. This keeps organizations wary of embracing citizen development, fearing the potential repercussions of security compromises◊ NCLC platforms have guardrails inherently built in (e.g., data encryption inherited from the platform, role-based access control), which provide foundation protection while still giving mission owners the “development” flexibility. Integrating other best practices, like routine audits, can bolster cybersecurity further and ensure adherence to regulations while empowering citizen developers to create secure solutions
♦ Integration Challenge: Consider a situation where John, an IT consultant at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), downloaded a trial version of the software for claims processing, which the organization did not approve. However, the software does not function properly, and he experiences compatibility issues when integrating a citizen-developed solution with the current systems. This has been one of the pains of adopting a new application for an old infrastructure. These integrations can also result in compliance risks due to the need for proper governance frameworks, such as data privacy issues and unauthorized data access◊ Governance frameworks should be made to define roles, responsibilities, and approval processes to ensure compatibility and compliance. Standard pre-built connectors, APIs, and regular integration platforms can simplify the process, reduce compliance risk, and provide safe integration with other systems. This will enable ICE staff to develop their tools confidently without compromising security
♦ Change Management and Incentives: Overcoming cultural resistance requires effective change management strategies.  Failing to implement effective OCM can lead to failed adoption, decreased productivity, high turnover rates, and project failures, resulting in financial losses, decreased customer satisfaction, and a loss of competitive edge Organizations should communicate the benefits of citizen development, such as increased productivity, agility, and innovation,  and provide sufficient resources to build workforce confidence. It’s also important to continue the momentum through incentives and recognition for successful applications to encourage participation. Celebrating successes by showcasing real-world examples and quantifying the impact can help build trust and excitement around citizen development initiatives

Crafting the Citizen Locksmith

Easy-to-use development platforms tailored for non-technical makers requires robust training, secure coding practices, and clear governance frameworks to guide these citizen in overcoming some of these issues that prevent the agency from maximizing the full potential of citizen development. With the right tools, training, and safeguards, a whole workforce can be empowered to craft mission-edge solutions and workflows for when they need it. Instead of being bottlenecked through complicated software development processes and fighting for IT resources, mission owners can swiftly pick apart inefficiencies themselves because they know the problems best.

Citizen Development Success Stories
The U.S. State Department leveraged ServiceNow’s low-code App Engine to create, develop, and deliver nearly a dozen apps to diplomats worldwide during the early days of the pandemic. The platform was also used to establish a centralized dispatch framework for emergency teams responding to U.S. wildfires. In practice, AppEngine allows government agencies to create new applications in half the time and at one-third the cost of traditional development methods.
The Washington State Department of Health used PowerApps by Microsoft to create and deploy its Regional Government Emergency Response and Monitoring solution. The tool provides an aggregated view of COVID-19 cases and resources and is now used in 115 hospitals across the state. [4]
These success stories did not come without challenges. Organizations had to navigate concerns around data security, integrate citizen-developed applications with existing systems, and foster a culture of collaboration between IT and business units. Strategies such as establishing clear governance policies, providing comprehensive training, and celebrating success stories helped overcome these obstacles.

Unleash the Key to Successful Citizen Development

Citizen development promises agility and creativity, but it faces substantial problems, including technical skill shortfalls, security risks, integration roadblocks, and governance issues when improperly implemented. That’s why NetImpact’s Citizen Development solutions exist – it democratizes software development for mission owners with an intuitive low-code, no-code UI so program specialists can quickly build apps for program needs. Our DX360°® Federal Workflow Engine is a user-friendly, configurable tool to automate, improve, and optimize eight frequently used processes that can engage employees, accelerate workflows, and reduce frustration through a single system of action.​
Contact us today to start removing barriers to self-sufficiency.

About NetImpact

NetImpact Strategies, Inc. is a digital transformation disruptor specializing in high-performing, secure digital solutions that redefine how technology is applied to deliver mission value.

NetImpact empowers clients with DX360°® services that accelerate mission outcomes for sustainable, lasting value using SaaS COTS products built on ServiceNow and Microsoft. Follow NetImpact on their website or LinkedIn for more.