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BusinessDay: Power to the people: the citizen development revolution


By Johan Steyn, 26 April 2023


Creators and innovators are no longer limited to professional software developers and IT departments in today’s era of rapid digital transformation. A new range of artificial intelligence (AI) tools is enabling individuals to develop their own applications and automated solutions, resulting in greater productivity and decreased overhead expenses.


One may call it the “power to the people movement” and it is transforming the future of work by empowering businesses and organisations to be more adaptive, inventive and customer-centric than ever before. “Citizen development” is the use of a variety of no-code and low-code platforms so that nonprogrammers can develop applications, automate processes and solve problems that were once reserved for experienced developers. By providing employees with the guidance and resources they need, businesses can harness the power of citizen development without sacrificing efficiency or quality.


AI and automation are important ingredients for the transition to citizen-driven development. It is the use of machines to perform activities and make decisions with minimum human intervention. Organisations are constantly seeking new ways to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks in order to increase efficiency. It is rapidly integrating itself into modern company operations.


Companies and organisations gain from citizen development and automation in a variety of ways, including the ability to quickly respond to changing market conditions and client preferences. These easy-to-use platforms reduce development time by allowing nontechnical individuals to create and deploy apps and automated solutions.


This promotes a collaborative and inventive work environment while lowering the financial strain on firms by eliminating their demand for costly information technology resources and specialised programming skills. When employees are given the freedom to experiment with technology, they come up with creative solutions to a wide range of business difficulties.


Citizen development serves as a catalyst for professional and personal development, equipping employees with the necessary tools and knowledge as they experiment with cutting-edge technologies and new approaches to old challenges. This improves both job satisfaction and prospects for promotion.


There are a number of low-code platforms that empower users to build applications through a visual interface, streamlining processes and improving productivity. By offering prebuilt templates and drag-and-drop functionality, these tools reduce development time and enable nonprogrammers to create applications.


At the forefront of this revolution are tools such as Appian, OutSystems, Bubble and, of course, Microsoft Power Apps.


Despite the benefits of this approach, companies must also be cognizant of potential obstacles. When non-IT professionals are enabled to design applications and automate processes, security, governance and scalability are frequent challenges.


To mitigate these risks, companies should develop clear rules and best practices to ensure adequate monitoring, collaboration and quality control. Investment in training and education programmes will also assist in equipping citizen developers with the information and skills required to develop secure and successful solutions.


The power to the people movement is significantly redefining how organisations approach technology and innovation. By democratising access to tools and resources, companies can harness the collective potential of their employees, allowing them to tap into a diverse range of skills, perspectives and creative solutions.


This shift enables organisations to drive growth, increase efficiency and create a more customer-centric organisation, as employees from various backgrounds and departments contribute to problem-solving and innovation. By embracing these principles, the era of citizen development and automation promises a brighter, more agile future for businesses and people as they harness the power of collective intelligence to tackle complex challenges.


I am left to wonder to what extent this shift in application development will result in a realignment between the technology department and the employees they endeavour to serve.

• Steyn is on the faculty at Woxsen University, a research fellow at Stellenbosch University and founder of AIforBusiness.net.


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