Citizen Developers…or Illegal Immigrants?

I learned at an early age – thanks to Charles Schultz’s character Linus – that there are three things never to discuss with others: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin. So, in the spirit of the Great Pumpkin, I’ll keep my political views out of this article.

During last year’s presidential campaign, illegal immigration was heavily debated and a widely polarizing topic. Now, depending upon which side of the border you stand, immigration can mean something very different. For those crossing the border, immigration is all about an opportunity for a better life. For those protecting the border, immigration is all about setting up the proper channels to vet everyone hoping to cross the border.

Illegal immigration – of sorts – has become an IT issue as well. IT’s first wave of illegal immigration happened when ordinary business users, with little or no technical expertise, started implementing solutions without the explicit approval (or knowledge) of their IT department. These illegal IT border crossings ushered in the era of Shadow IT.

One can think of Shadow IT as the simple law of supply and demand. Ask any CIO how their role has changed over the last decade and they will respond with being asked to produce more, on a slashed budget and with less resources. When overburdened IT departments are stretched too thin, they can’t keep up with demand. Low supply causes business users that are tired of hearing about slashed budgets, fewer resources and long backlogs to cross over illegally into the lands of IT for the opportunity at a better (work) life. That said, no one in IT should be overly surprised to hear recent studies report that over one-third of a company’s total tech purchases are made by people who don’t report to the CIO.

The second wave of illegal immigrants began with no-code development tools. This new application development paradigm – aimed at business users instead of programmers – ushered in the era of Citizen Development. Not only do Citizen Developers illegally cross the border into IT, but they take residence in the capitol city – Application Development.

Citizen Developers view themselves as IT adversaries; they feel neglected by IT. After years of hearing “you’ll have to wait for that,” “that’s too complicated,” or “why do you need that,” business users decide to take action into their own hands. It only takes one call from a no-code vendor painting a panacea of “build anything you want without IT” to put their emigration plan from business user to Citizen Developer into play.

How can IT tackle its illegal immigration problem? Give business users a better life.

And how do we give users a better life? Quicker delivery of applications with features users want.

IT is not solely to blame for Shadow IT – partially, not but solely. Shadow IT and Citizen Development arose from the ashes of our old world being burnt to the ground. The exploding number of new interfaces, devices, databases, operating systems, development languages and open-source frameworks-of-the-month has increased the complexity of application development exponentially. Every year users become more Web and mobile savvy, so they expect more from IT in terms of UX. Full-stack developers that know all the languages required to build today’s modern UX are difficult to find – and unaffordable when we do. This is our new world. It’s complex. It’s difficult to navigate. And it’s affected our ability to get solutions into production.

At some point, we must break the status quo of mastering every new development language and open-source framework to come down the pike. It’s no longer viable; Shadow IT and Citizen Development are the proof. Gartner predicts that market demand for app development will grow at least five times faster than IT’s capacity to deliver it through 2021. John Rymer (Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst) said, “If we rely solely on coding, we’re going to fail. It’s too slow.”

With our old world destroyed and our new world in disarray, now is the time to rebuild and create a foundation for the future. Speaking of foundations, my father-in-law was a mason and had a saying about concrete that I find to be quite apropos. He would say, “Dave, there are only two kinds of concrete in this world: concrete that is cracked and concrete that hasn’t cracked yet.” The way I look at it, if a company is plagued by Shadow IT then they have cracks in their foundation. If not, it’s just a matter of time until they do. In my opinion, we will never eliminate Shadow IT. Rather, we can only try our best to minimize the cracking.

How can we minimize Shadow IT and Citizen Development?

The answer is by taking advantage of low-code development platforms geared towards professional developers, not Citizen Developers. When compared to traditional application development, low-code enables IT to regain control over application development by minimizing hand-coding in multiple languages, enforcing re-use, reducing risk and eliminating trying to hire elusive and costly full-stack developers. Low-code tools can also open the lines of communication between IT and the user community, eliminating the desire for business leaders wanting to become Citizen Developers because they become more involved in the design phases of an application.

Features like real-time prototyping, agile development, and continuous delivery improves requirement gathering, UX collaboration with business users and, most important, user acceptance. How? Frequent sharing of prototypes and reiterative testing allows IT to refine requirements on-the-fly and work hand-in-hand with the business community to ensure that what will be delivered is exactly what was asked for. Instead of having Citizen Developers crossing over illegally into IT to build their own apps, these users can become ambassadors and be the official liaison between IT and the LOB leaders to ensure the voice of the user community is heard.

Let me put it this way. When you have car troubles, you ultimately rely on a professional mechanic to fix it. Health issues? A medical professional. Retirement? A financial advisor. It only makes sense to fix your application development problems using professional programmers, not Citizen Developers.

LANSA provides IT with a low-code offering with three distinct features. First, LANSA’s business application framework includes visual prototyping and runtime simulation that allows users to be involved from conception through delivery of the application, allowing them to feel valued and their voice heard. Second, LANSA’s Data Services Layer and Business Rules Engine facilitates system-wide assignment and enforcement of business rules and validation logic without writing a single line of code, which greatly improves application maintenance. Last, LANSA is a single-language development environment that shields developers from underlying technologies so they can remain focused on building applications instead of learning new languages and technologies. With LANSA, if you write 100 lines of code, you maintain/debug 100 lines – not the 1000s of lines of code generated under the covers.

If you’re interested in learning how to build enterprise apps at the speed of low-code, produce more with your current staff and everything is secured and managed by IT, then check out LANSA.

David Brault

Author: David Brault

As Product Manager at LANSA, David Brault draws on his 20+ years in the application development market to help determine the market direction for LANSA's products. David’s experience includes extensive involvement integrating various Microsoft, IBM, Web and Mobile technologies with back-office and ERP systems. David is a member of an IBM advisory council called CAAC and a frequent speaker at industry events.

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