What is a citizen developer?

Citizen developers are end users external to an organization who create applications on platforms that are sanctioned by internal IT organizations.

Organizations are beginning to notice that citizen developers are valuable. There is a growing demand for applications, one that traditional developers simply do not have the resources to fill. In fact, IDC predicts that there will be over 500 million apps developed by the year 2023 (Source: IDC). Gartner research suggests that 61% of organizations are either already implementing active citizen-development initiatives, or have plans to incorporate such initiative in the near future (Source: Gartner).

61% of companies are utlizing citizen-development

Gartner research indicates that organizations are either already or planning to implement active citizen-development initiatives in the near future.

The IT need

Digital business models are becoming increasingly more mature, which is creating a never-ending IT backlog. IT is constantly under pressure to modernize tech infrastructure and applications to advance digital agendas, and IT can’t do just by themselves. Citizen developers assist in the development of business-critical applications, freeing up IT departments to focus more of their energies on projects that demand technology expertise. 

The business need

In many cases, project managers and other departments outside of IT may become frustrated that IT teams cannot deliver applications quickly enough to meet immediate demand. With the right citizen development policies, training, and tools in place, business users may simply build their own solutions, rather than waiting for professional in-house developers to work through their backlog. 

However, it is worth recognizing that, if left unchecked, citizen development can result in application quality and security issues that IT cannot see. It is therefore essential that project managers work with citizen developers and IT departments to ensure that any and all development projects are adhering to established governance frameworks.


Intentionality about planning has immediate and long-term benefits for whatever application you want to build. As you prepare to use citizen-development practices to build an application, first consider the following questions: 

  1. What are the objectives, goals, and outputs of the application? What problems are you looking to solve?
  2. Who will use the application?
  3. Do you want users to have the ability to see and edit fields, or will users need different degrees of access?
  4. How will users use the application? Does it provide information, collect information, route information, look up information, request information, or collaborate information?
  5. Will the data be entered into the applications by users? Does the data need to be imported from an external source?
  6. How are users going to interact with your application? Will they be using a mobile device or a computer? Will they be interacting through a conversational interface such as a chatbot?
  7. How will stakeholders report on the application? 

Planning should begin with the end of the process in mind. Outputs tend to be the drivers for inputs, and if you are looking to speed up the process, an understanding of output metrics can help identify what to measure.

Steps to Building an Application


This is the step where you begin to build out your data. Ensure that the proper people have the right level of access to the data. First, create or open your application record, then create your data model with relevant tables and fields, and finally secure and import your data.


During the design step, your focus shifts to identifying and constructing the right end-user experience and channel. Decide what functionality is needed for each user experience, whether it’s web, mobile, chatbot, etc. 


Logic is what makes an application a useful tool. It comes in forms ranging from what people can and cannot see, to rules that govern what happens to the data when you enter, update, and delete it, and what makes users aware of the conditions and events within the application.

  • Form logic: When you control what users see when they visit a form, you can increase responsiveness and productivity. Ask yourself: is this a suggestion or enforcement? Suggestions make the form easier to complete, while enforcement forces the user to complete certain actions to complete the form.
  • Business rules: Logic and validation that run when records are created or when they are changed or deleted. This is useful for building conditional logic to run when the form has been submitted.
  • Flow Designer: Flow Designer is a  tool that is used for building business workflows. When designing a flow, consider that each flow should have a singular goal, they should be reusable, and they should be clear as to the purpose of the action.
  • IntegrationHub: A powerful tool that is available when building flows and using pre-built integration connectors and actions.
  • Notifications: Most applications should have a type of multi-channel notification for things like when a task is assigned to a user or group, when a request is opened for closed, and when approval is needed.

Although citizen developers provide an effective solution for reducing IT backlog and improving development turnaround times, you can’t expect every citizen developer to have the same education and experience as a professional developer. As such, a successful strategy means providing citizen developers with the low-code application tools, capable of bridging the IT experience gap.  Templates, code libraries, pre-built integrations, etc. improve productivity, giving your citizen developers the resources they need to create powerful business applications.

Many applications may demand input and effort for both kinds of developers. As such, working within a platform that allows for increased collaboration between professional developers and low-code citizen developers helps ensure that the more complex elements are in the hands of those best qualified to address them, while still allowing citizen developers to handle less complex issues using low-code resources.

ServiceNow offers a series of citizen development tools, from low code to no code. 

APP Engine Studio and Templates

APP Engine provides a single location where citizen developers can collaborate, compose customized workspaces, and implement automation features, using simple, visual interfaces. Use templates and best-practice designs to hit the ground running.

Flow Designer

Flow Designer is a single interface for developing and testing flows while using natural language to describe flow logic. Use this tool to add workflows to custom applications, reduce the need for custom scripts, and operate alongside IntegrationHub.

Process Automation Designer

An advanced enterprise application development platform, Process Automation Designer uses no-code playbooks, built-in third-party integrations, and assigned triggers to deliver faster, more efficient workflows. 

Integration Hub

Easily create end-to-end digital workflows to automate processes across silos, systems, or departments. Integration Hub uses application-specific sets of automation actions and subflows called “spokes” to simplify integrations and empower developers at any experience level with reliable no-code automation. 

Virtual Agent

An AI-enhanced chatbot, Virtual Agent incorporates the NLU Workbench. This allows citizen developers to easily define intents, map entities, and create advanced no-code models.

Predictive Intelligence

Enhance your workflows and automate repetitive tasks using advanced machine learning. No-code, pre-built templates make implementing predictive intelligence easy. 

Performance Analytics

ServiceNow Performance Analytics uses purpose-built KPIs and dashboards, automated alerts, and real-time information to help subject matter experts and stakeholders prioritize resources, anticipate trends, and get the most out of automation and self-service solutions. 

The global impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is difficult to understate. In terms of application development, the shift from in-office to at-home work has made low-code development tools all the more relevant. Platforms promoting improved collaboration and increased application output are helping recreate the formal development processes that may have fallen into disuse during the transition.    

More than that, citizen development is allowing organizations to better address the organizational challenges that come with remote and hybrid workforces. By expanding development responsibilities beyond professional developers, businesses can effectively lessen the load on overwhelmed IT teams. At the same time, the near-universal need for immediate solutions has helped incentivize many industries that have been slow to implement low-code solutions in the past. The end result is a new IT landscape where citizen development is quickly becoming the standard. This landscape may well perpetuate long after the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

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Citizen Developer Resources

Developer Site – Site where developers can get a developer instance and train

App Engine Studio – Low-code visual app environment

Customer Success – Best practice information

Training Courses – ServiceNow’s virtual or in-person training classes

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