The Citizen Developer

Partner or party crasher?

By Bob Rhubart

September/October 2016

What is the core objective of technological innovation? On a basic human level, it’s about making people more productive—making it possible for one person to do the work of several people.

The concept of the citizen developer is a new current in the ever-flowing stream that is technological innovation. According to the Gartner IT Glossary, a citizen developer is “a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.”

It’s not difficult to understand why such a concept would appeal to a company. If people in accounting need a particular application, they just whip it up on their own, without ever having to talk to anyone in IT.

You might assume that the people in IT would have issues with non-IT people taking it upon themselves to create their own applications. But based on comments posted in a community discussion of the topic, that assumption would be faulty—and simplistic.

The citizen developer . . . brings business and technology closer than techies can.”
–Lykle Thijssen, Consultant, AMIS

Lykle Thijssen, senior service-oriented architecture and business process management consultant at AMIS, believes the idea of the citizen developer brings IT closer to its true purpose—delivering business value instead of delivering complexity. “The citizen developer forces us to keep it simple and brings business and technology closer than techies can. When it comes to my role, I’ll be happy to do more consulting and less developing, so I think things will only get better for me.”

Oracle ACE Kim Berg Hansen, senior developer at Trivadis, shares a similar sentiment. “Professional developers make and create APIs using everything they’ve learned, which can then be used as building blocks in the applications built by the citizen developer,” Hansen says. Rather than rendering him obsolete, the citizen developer frees Hansen to focus on the work he truly enjoys. “I’ll get more time for doing the fun stuff of creating advanced SQL to make the APIs fast and efficient. The citizen developer can do the boring stuff—putting the building blocks together to make an app.”

But there are limitations, Hansen warns. “I can wire a lamp to a power outlet, but I call in a professional if I need extra power outlets in the house. If, as ‘citizen electrician,’ I exceed my limits, I can do bad stuff.” A mistake by a citizen developer may not pose an electrocution risk, but the same citizen limitations apply.

The existence of those limitations is a key reason why citizen developers pose no threat to professional developers, according to Shay Shmeltzer, director of product management for Oracle’s mobile and development tools. “There will always be more-complex programming challenges that will require professional developers to provide the solution,” Shmeltzer says.

At the other end of the spectrum, advances in technology, the accessibility provided by cloud tools, and new generations entering the workforce combine to create an environment that nurtures the creation of applications by citizen developers. “This should help companies address immediate business needs faster by removing the IT bottleneck that currently exists in many cases,” says Shmeltzer. “In exchange, IT can focus on developing the more-complex applications.”

Another reason professional developers need not panic is that while available tools make it possible for just about anyone to develop applications, not everyone is interested, and interest is no guarantee of success. “The problem with the citizen developer paradigm is that it assumes the capable business users are interested,” says Oracle ACE Director Sten Vesterli, principal at More Than Code and president of the Danish Oracle User Group. “Business users just want a business problem solved, and they have little patience for the nit-picking accuracy required by IT, even when they are using the most-friendly tools.”

But those tools can also directly benefit even seasoned developers. “The citizen developer tools will become part of the professional developer’s toolkit,” Vesterli says. “They are a benefit because they enable us to build simple applications faster.”

And being more productive is always a good thing, right?

Are you concerned about the concept of the citizen developer? Join the discussion.

Next Steps

 WATCH Oracle ADF, MAF, and JET: What Framework Is Right for You?

 Read “The Rise of the Mobile Citizen Developer and Oracle Mobile Application Accelerator.

 Watch Videos on the ArchBeat Development Tools playlist.

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