Executive need to listen

COLUMN | July 14, 2021 | 3 min read

Citizen development in the real world

With proper guidance from IT, non-coders can help drive innovation across the organisation

By Paul Hardy, executive strategist, Chief Innovation Office at ServiceNow

Over the past year, companies everywhere have withstood challenges ranging from extreme global uncertainty and ever-changing stakeholder demands to increasingly constrained resources. Business leaders have had to think on their feet while managing through rapid change.

In order to provide customers with the products and services they need in a way that they’ll love, companies must increase productivity and boost their operational resilience.

User experience (UX) is crucial to harnessing these changes, rather than being bowled over by them. So how can we improve UX and drive continued business transformation in tandem?

I’m hearing from C-suite customers that they need to make employees’ work easier and flow much better. They clearly want their teams to be happy, while being able to consistently perform the optimal levels of work required in these unique times.

This means companies need to bring everyone on board to drive the business, rather than leaving that to senior leaders and IT.

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The low-code innovators

The citizen developer movement is vital for driving these work capabilities. Citizen development is a business process that enables employees without coding expertise to become software developers. Citizen developers can create their own business apps using low code/no code platforms with governance from IT.

The power of this model is that employees without coding skills can play a direct role in delivering product and service innovations.

With a finite number of professional developers in the world, and so much operational demand, citizen developers can also reduce the burden on IT and centralised developer teams. Although citizen developers typically operate outside of organisations’ IT domains, they create new business applications on platforms sanctioned by IT.

Across many companies today, citizen developers are building new workflow apps that seamlessly connect various technology stacks. They’re tailoring workflows and automating processes while harnessing the power of machine learning and analytics.

The Dutch insurance company Nationale-Nederlanden (NN) harnessed citizen developers to improve its catalogue form processing activities.

Driven by ever-increasing demand from across the company, NN’s IT team used to spend almost two days per week creating catalogue forms. This was a major burden on IT staff that prevented them from focusing on higher value activities.

“We partnered with ServiceNow to quickly create a self-service catalogue management app with its low-code App Engine, using prebuilt templates and an intuitive, drag-and-drop interface,” says Paul van Renselaar, product owner for the ServiceNow IT4IT Team at Nationale-Nederlanden. “We’ve also enabled employees to be trained and certified as citizen developers, so over 16 teams are now swiftly creating their own catalogue items linked to our services.”

We’re finding the most effective citizen developers typically possess frontline knowledge of various business units.

People are at the heart of NN’s business. “Before we onboard and train them, we always think about each person, establish their core capabilities and what they require from the platform to best perform work,” van Renselaar adds.

“We’re finding the most effective citizen developers typically possess frontline knowledge of various business units and are aware of potential process improvements that can drive innovation, foster creative thinking, and cut application development costs and production time.”

Citizen development is proving to be a game changer for NN. Now that business teams can create their own apps, IT teams have more time to redeploy and upscale their work. It’s a major win for everyone.

When you’re launching a citizen developer program, it’s important to agree who is setting the governance standards for process management, which includes establishing a common services data model across the business. Done well, this provides visibility into service and application-related data from different domains, consolidated in a single view, enabling you to align IT strategy with company strategy and capabilities.

Another common challenge is figuring out how to sustain and expand a citizen development program across the organisation, securely and at a controlled pace. “At NN, a key success factor in scaling our citizen development program involved showing the wider company how it delivered these work innovations,” van Renselaar says. “Equally important was explaining that these capabilities are transferable, especially as the process and the flow are the same for any line of business. This was the moment when engagement with management occurred, and their buy-in was secured.”

Citizen development provides a golden opportunity to make work, work better for employees, customers, and the broader community. So, how can organisations make citizen development happen?

“We took baby steps, embracing an agile mindset, so we could fail fast and swiftly improve with the knowledge gained along our journey,” says van Renselaar. “For those starting out, start small, build it out, and you’ll immediately see benefits.”

Done right, citizen development is a generational opportunity for organisations. If you’re struggling to make citizen development work for you, or just starting out on your journey, speak with people who have done it before, and remember to engage with our knowledge-rich communities as well.


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Paul Hardy is an executive strategist in the Chief Innovation Office at ServiceNow. He is regarded as a trusted adviser to CXOs, partner organisations, leadership boards, and business executives at the world’s most demanding businesses. His core remit focuses on outcome-driven digital business transformation through enterprise service management, project management, and vendor management offices.
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