The Citizen Developer Movement – Trending Up

Maybe you’ve heard the term Citizen Developer. What is a Citizen Developer?

According to Gartner:

Citizen Developer is an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units. A citizen developer is a persona, not a title or targeted role. They report to a business unit or function other than IT.

Let’s consider simplifying the definition of a Citizen Developer to simply be a non-IT employee that can develop software applications, based on true field experience, not a result of a survey.

What we have witnessed firsthand is a Director of Finance & Accounting, a Treasury Manager, and a Customer Service Representative (CSR) create applications successfully, none of them having an IT background. These applications were useful, they had business value, they automated daily tasks, therefore, saving them time in their workday, eliminating data entry errors and providing peace of mind that the work would be completed without their intervention (a verbatim quote from them).

These applications were developed using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and the applications they automated were sending emails with attached files, receiving emails, moving files to folders, logging into web forms and entering data, sending invoices to customers, just to name a few.

Good journalism, and good research, requires analyzing the 5 W’s and 1 H, who, what, why, when, where and how, to truly understand your subject.

We know “who”, a non-IT employee, we know “what”, the ability to create software applications, let’s look at “why” the Citizen Developer concept and movement originated and is trending up.

  • 86% of IT decision-makers say the biggest challenge to digitally transform their business is too few software developers
  • Demand for applications is outpacing development, there are 1,365,500 software developer vacancies at American businesses, while only 65,000 developers graduate from college every year

“Where” is at businesses today that are considered pacesetters, businesses that are serious about digital transformation and realize they have to embrace new methods, new technologies and change in general. Businesses that are savvy enough to act on empowering their workforce. These companies tend to have mature automation strategies, and are expected to thrive and prosper.

“When” is 2019 going forward, increasing every year. In late 2019, Gartner predicted citizen developers would outnumber professional developers at large enterprises 4-to-1 by 2023.

“How” is centered around technology, specifically no-code technology. The evolution of software development goes from traditional code to low-code to no-code.

Traditional code required all processes to be coded using specific, complicated and soon-to-be outdated programming languages. Only skilled developers could use this technology.

Low-code introduced basic functions that could be configured using a visual editor or pre-built modules, but complex operations and modifications still required code. This technology still required skilled developers for the most part.

No-code consisted of everything from basic functions to complex operations able to be configured with visual flows and pre-built components, no coding required. This technology enabled non-IT users with no IT background to create and modify applications.

Businesses today are embracing the Citizen Developer movement, and reaping the benefits with tangible, measurable results.

Citizen Developer Benefits

  • Digital Transformation
  • Automation
  • Employee Engagement

Digital transformation

A standard definition of digital transformation is “the process of using technology to radically change your business”.

Digital transformation involves replacing old, obsolete tools and processes with cutting-edge technologies and software applications to speed work. Digital transformation seeks to improve user experiences, streamline operations and increase productivity by transforming manual processes into high-speed digital ones. Together these efforts “change every facet of an organization, from back-office operations to customer interactions.”

Although this business transformation can be difficult, the ROI can be enormous. Companies that successfully become digital businesses are “more efficient, data-driven and nimble, taking advantage of more business opportunities.”

However, digital transformation requires a cultural shift. Transforming your business processes with digital technology means changing the way that cross-functional teams work. It involves challenging employees’ mindsets about existing processes.

Effective digital transformation involves a complete rethink. It requires a deep-seated change in how businesses function and deliver value to customers.

The most obvious benefit that the Citizen Developer movement provides is furthering the digital transformation for a company, the ability for more applications to be created, and removing the limitations of relying on IT to create applications.

This addresses core objectives of digital transformation, saving your workforce time in their daily tasks, centralizing information, giving multiple people the ability to access and analyze it.

The history of digital transformation goes back further some people may think, originating in 1940 with Claude Shannon, the father of modern digital communications and information theory.

The 1970’s saw data entry jobs crop up to help their businesses convert their analog records into digital data. In the 1980’s, along with the world wide web being invented, automation began entering the workforce.

Fast forwarding to the present, business managers are frustrated that they cannot achieve fast development and deployment of business applications. This obstacle to digital transformation is a problem that companies must solve to stay competitive.

Over 40% of organizations report suffering from a skills gap when it comes to app development.

Note Citizen Developers are in demand for a number of different applications, such as mobile apps, however this article focuses more on Citizen Developers using RPA for the sake of automation.


Software to automate typical business tasks and processes, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), is now available to the Citizen Developer. RPA software vendors have created software development tools that build automations with no-code technology.

These tools enable the Citizen Developer to automate their typical daily, weekly or monthly tasks, like sending invoices by email, creating and consolidating reports, or logging into a portal to enter data or download data.

These automations save time and eliminate data entry errors. Since these automations can be scheduled, now the office worker can have their work being completed in off peak hours, rather than spend their time during the day performing these tasks.

RPA is truly advanced technology, and it is difficult for companies to keep up with advanced technology. The Citizen Developer concept makes it easier to keep up by removing the technology from the advanced technology, at least as far as the Citizen Developer is concerned, enabling them to program without having to know a programming language.

Employee Engagement

The employee engagement benefit is perhaps the most timely, critical benefit of Citizen Developers. Employee engagement is key for employee retention and talent acquisition.

The Great Resignation saw 4.3 million U.S. employees quit their jobs in December 2021, the highest in history. The Work Trend Index report, a global survey of over 30,000 employees in March of 2021, stated that 40% of employees were looking for new opportunities. This highlights the importance of employee retention, as engaged employees are less likely to resign

The labor shortage, estimated to be over a 1 trillion dollar challenge for U.S. companies in 2021, highlights the challenge of talent acquisition. In February of 2022, there were 11.3 million job openings in the U.S. according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This highlights the talent acquisition challenge, as employers with high employee engagement rates will perform better recruiting that companies with lower employee engagement rates.

PwC started out with a group of 1,000 self-selected Citizen Developers and taught them how to program RPA software robots. They then reskilled and upskilled their entire 55,000 person US workforce as part of their “Your Tomorrow” initiative.

Thanks to this program, PwC beat their competitor’s attrition rates by 15 to 20 points and boosted employee engagement scores by 20 to 30%.

The Work Trend Index report mentioned previously shares insight on employee engagement by explaining what employees want and what they are frustrated with.

Three significant statistics :

  • 86% of employees around the globe demand new skills from their employer
  • 58% of office workers believe there are more opportunities for them to automate their daily monotonous tasks
  • 30% of U.S. office workers are interested in acquiring RPA skills

In addition to this, 55% of employees said their company introduced new technology for them to use, but they did not know how to use it, so they feared for their job because they felt like they were going to fail.

As we approach the marketplace with this information, we still hear companies say they do not have the time to implement a Citizen Developer program because they are too busy with existing projects,  they are too busy with daily tasks, or they are dealing with turnover. There is true irony in all three of those objections, as those are excellent reasons to implement a Citizen Developer program.


Digital transformation is real, companies using technology to become more agile and efficient, gaining or maintaining their competitive edge.

Citizen Developer programs can play a vital role in an organization’s digital transformation, it is a natural next step.

In 2015, McKinsey & Company stated that the average business has over 900 business processes, and that 85% of those processes can be automated.

This statement means that most companies will automate most of the processes they can. This will improve productivity, reduce costs and improve the quality of their data.

Citizen Developer programs can scale automation in a company. It is predicted that in year 2022 Citizen Development and the Cloud are the two key factors in scaling automation.

The labor shortage is real, the demand for talent is higher than it’s ever been in history, so employee retention, acquisition and engagement are three key areas for business growth. The Citizen Developer movement addresses this challenge, it is what the majority of employees surveyed want, addressing the demand for new skills, the automation of specific tasks, and the desire to learn RPA.

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