Forbes, in their “Most Disruptive Trend of 2021” report stated that soon two-thirds of development will be carried out in-house utilising no-code low-code technology. This new era has created a new role in the tech industry: “Citizen Developers”.

Citizen Developers are described by Gartner as: “An employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units.” This term is used a lot, sometimes as praise and in our times as a criticism, but for the purpose of this article we wanted to set the neutral definition at this early stage. As individuals they are an asset who can develop applications for businesses that solve real challenges, however they cannot and should not do it alone or without support.

The term “citizen developers” is one that has become increasingly concerning for developers and tech professionals, especially as more and more businesses begin to find these individuals attractive additions to the business. However, these individuals can only provide part of the solution, and there are risks involved if the correct process is not followed.

The low-code solution enabling citizen-developers

Power Apps was created as a low code solution with a view of making application building more accessible for non-coders and it does this successfully. It allows for apps to be created driving business efficiencies and simplifying ways of working for people across all business functions. However, without an indepth knowledge and understanding the security landscape, these apps can create a business risk.

Low code makes coding accessible but without experience applications are created without documentation, with no foresight given to how an app will scale when the business grows becoming a real shadow IT problem. You may solve a productivity issue now, but it is a temporary solution which may cause long term problems.

We have had clients come to us with solutions which have been created but now can’t be supported as there is no documentation on how the solution works or was built. The individual who created the solution has left the business and no one else has the understanding to maintain it. If something goes wrong, no one knows how to solve it and the business is back at square one.

Citizen Developers – they aren’t all bad!

We are not saying that citizen developers are a bad thing. They are a useful resource providing expertise and talent to an organisation, often stretched by internal requirements. Microsoft detailed a case study where the agility of citizen developers helped to modernise a product launch through a hackathon. Their knowledge and ability to quickly produce a solution is invaluable to a business as they can see the internal struggles and find an appropriate solution. However, it is vital that they are supported by engineers and technical consultants to ensure it is fit for the long term.

If citizen developers are not internal, the in-depth knowledge about the solution is quickly lost. Therefore, documentation is vital to ensure relevant staff know how to maintain the solution.

The additional risk to the wider business is that you end up creating a Shadow IT problem which is ungoverned leaving the business unprotected.

Cloud Software accelerating Shadow IT

Shadow IT refers to IT devices, software and services outside the ownership or control of IT departments. “The growth of shadow IT has accelerated with the consumerisation of information technology. Users have become comfortable downloading and using apps and services from the cloud to assist them in their work.” (Cisco)

The pandemic has caused an increase in Shadow IT with a lack of oversight and governance on what apps are being downloaded and without our users understanding that this has a number of associated risks or is even a problem in the first place. In order to provide greater control over this, Microsoft launched a product called Intune to be utilised as part of their Security suite. This empowers IT to control how the organisations devices are to be used, apps which they can download and keeps your organisation protected.

A digitally empowered workforce that understands the tools they need to best do their role is the dream for many businesses, but Shadow IT poses a real business risk, including potential data loss, GDPR breaches and more. We’ve found that the best way to overcome the risks of Shadow IT, whilst utilising citizen developers is to support these users, where possible, with engineers and professional developers.

These cross functional teams work in harmony to produce properly documented solutions that can scale with your business as it grows, can be used safely by its users to improve productivity, all without posing a risk to business governance and compliance.

At ThinkShare, we can support your team building a new Power App. We are passionate about enabling businesses to create efficiencies whilst ensuring they are developed securely. If your business is planning or working on a new app, we can review this with you and help create a secure app which will stand the test of time.

If you have a project in mind you’d like to explore further with us, contact us to schedule an appointment.