The rise of the Citizen developers: “We’re all developers now”

Pierre-Edouard G.
6 min readFeb 7, 2022


With today’s constant demand for software and applications, most IT departments simply cannot keep up. Enter citizen developers, non-technical profiles who build business applications and technology solutions with existing enterprise IT-approved tools.

At the end of 2020, 1.4 million computer science jobs were unfilled in the US.
The global talent shortage stood at 40 million skilled workers worldwide.
By 2030, the global talent shortage is expected to reach 85.2 million.Companies around the world stand to lose $8.4 trillion in revenue due to lack of skilled talent.

(Source: US labor statistics)

The lack of developers and computer science experts on the market leads to the emergence of the Citizen Developers culture and Low-Code platforms. By leveraging Citizen Development, many organizations are able to streamline their business processes and automate workflows without the involvement of IT teams and relying on developers to solve their business issues.

86% of IT decision-makers say the biggest challenge to digitally transform their business is too few software developers.

(Source: PMI — the Project Management Institute, Citizen Development Survey for Global IT leaders, 2020)

Until recently, employees didn’t have the capacity, the tools, and the support from their IT department to address their needs.

What is Low-Code / No-Code (LCNC)?

LCNC platforms are development platforms that offer visual frameworks that allow non-technical users to develop fully functional applications without the need for programming skills.

No-Code development tools provide a fully visual “What You See Is What You Get” (or WYSIWYG) interface to create an application. In other words, what you do and see will be the end result of your application in terms of user interface (UI). Of course, you also have to take into account the configuration of your data model, workflows and business logic, security parameters, navigation… which will also be configured using the platform options, without coding.

Low-Code tools often support scripting for capabilities beyond a “No-Code” approach. A Low-Code platform, therefore, offers most of the same functionalities but makes it possible to extend, if necessary, the applications created using code, which makes it a better choice in the long run or for more robust projects or larger organizations.

LCNC platforms are mature to the point they minimize the need for manual coding when building complex, enterprise-grade applications.

What is citizen development?

Citizen Development unleashes productivity across an organization by giving the employees the tools, the skills, and the guidelines to take an idea and develop a solution themselves.

What are citizen developers?

Expression introduced by Gartner, the definition they provide is “A 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.

Gartner has seen business-led IT practices taking place with growing frequency and increasing spending, which is about 36% of the IT budget. Business units are increasingly controlling their own application development efforts, of which citizen development will play a crucial role in the future of apps. IT leaders and Project teams need to help define, guide and optimize citizen development to maximize mutual benefits for business and IT.

Citizen developers are empowered business users who create new or change existing business applications without the need to involve IT departments to suit business-specific needs and improve operational efficiency within a company.

In the past, employees who submitted requests to solve specific business problems often found themselves faced with an IT department already overwhelmed with major projects that take months or even years to see the light of day, and which had not the ability to grow their teams due to the lack of candidates on the market. Citizen developers are more agile, willing to take the responsibility to learn, create and customize a solution and respond quickly to the dynamic business landscape.

The citizen development approach not only speeds innovation and the application development process, it also reduces backlogs and frees the IT department to focus on more pressing organizational issues. By being part of IT’s governance, this approach also solves potential security issues associated with shadow IT and the use of third-party apps unsanctioned by IT.

Gartner predicted that by 2023, the number of citizen developers within larger enterprises will exceed the number of professional developers by a factor of 4.

In short, a citizen developer:

  • is a professional that is a domain expert who has a deep understanding of business processes
  • is able to identify new opportunities that improve operational efficiency
  • is a persona with little-to-no technical background capable of building applications
  • is a catalyst of digital transformation

However, Citizen developers need to have the full endorsement and the freedom to take action. This will require new ways of working, thinking, and taking decisions across the organization.


Impact on organizations

Gartner analysts declared back in 2012 that “We’re all developers now”. It has never been so true!

The impact on organizations is huge:

  • Being highly cost-effective, LCNC platforms allow for broader innovation, automation, and solutions for business needs
  • The ability to solve business problems quickly allows you to remain competitive and efficient
  • Citizen developers with the skills and competencies to put ideas into reality are replacing hierarchical and rigid decision-making in a new paradigm
  • Citizen development has the ability to boost productivity throughout the company

In return there are new challenges in terms of human resources and management:

  • Develop strategies to attract and retain those new talents internally
  • Being able to manage citizen developers skills in both “citizen development” and “business” aspects
  • Facilitating the emergence of new citizen developers with e-learning courses and guidelines available across the organization

According to the World Economic Forum, “ 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, as adoption of technology increases ”. Major organizational changes are already ongoing and will still impact massively organizations in the next 3–5 years.

As an organization, your focus might be to focus on accompanying your current employees in this effort of upskilling more than continue investing in technologies.

Impacts on IT

Research has found that 77% of IT leaders and 71% of business leaders agree that IT teams have a huge pipeline of new IT solution requests, which aren’t being built. In addition to keeping an organization up and running from a technology standpoint, IT is under immense pressure to modernize the existing IT infrastructure and advance its organization’s digital agenda by building new business-critical apps.

78% of IT and business leaders agree that shadow IT has increased greatly over the past 5 years. While the existence of shadow IT is mostly good, when left unchecked it can create a technical wild west for IT.

IT departments are transforming from working for the business department to working with the business teams. IT teams need to be trained and have proper methodologies, guidelines, and the mindset to allow full endorsement and give Citizen Developers the freedom they need.

The benefits for the IT department is also significant:

  • Citizen development reduces IT backlog
  • Increases innovation while reducing the amount of unsanctioned IT tools
  • Convert IT, teams, into technology partners as the business teams are in charge of creating their own applications with the support of the IT department
  • Application built with modern LCNC platforms are more secured, easier to maintain, extend, and deploy
  • Resources and materials related to those platforms are widely available

In order for an IT department to be relevant and avoid the business units completely taking over, Citizen development requires governance from the IT department:

  • Having a process to select & validate a new platform as well as sharing an official list of sanctioned platforms,
  • Consolidating best practices and guidelines,
  • Monitor the platform costs, the resource consumption, as well as monitor the live applications
  • Managing access and security privileges to the new platforms for new employees

Examples of Applications that can be developed with Citizen Development

  • Customer Relationship Management application
  • Internal requests application (for devices, furniture…)
  • Approval workflow involving e-Signature and multiple sequences
  • Timesheet management
  • Onboarding of new employees
  • Event Management
  • Client portal to let your customer update or submit information or documents
  • Provider portal to let your business partners submit information and documents
  • Application for jobs and hiring processes

The Benefits of Citizen Development

Through citizen development, IT can partner with the business to build solutions the organization needs — faster and with less rework. The business users know their domain better than anyone else and working collaboratively will ensure that the right processes and technology are in place. When done right, citizen development can help you:

  • Break down silos, enhance collaboration and reduce the disconnect between IT and the business
  • Meet the growing need for apps and process automation
  • Boost IT and business productivity
  • Address shortage of skilled developer
  • Govern shadow IT and take advantage of it

More on my blog:

#nocode #lowcode #citizendeveloper #citizendevelopment #lcnc



Pierre-Edouard G.

Citizen Developer Strategist, entrepreneur with 15 years of experience in marketing, project delivery, and application architecture.