Will “Citizen development” suffer the same destiny as the hybrid engine?

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You will immediately wonder what stung me when comparing the notion of “citizen development” with a hybrid vehicle!

Besides, what does this barbaric term “citizen development” mean? By doing some research, we quickly find a definition from Gartner that defines it as:

A citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT

Gartner

To keep things simple, the idea is to give to a business user the opportunity to create his own tools from resources provided by his IT department. By that way, each user would now become an application or process developer.

Just a dream, a fantasy or the reality in just a few click ?

Citizen Developer

We are clearly in the market trend which could suggest that everyone can – without any training or almost – do everything from their environment.

Besides, isn’t that the eternal promise of computer science?

Unfortunatly, the reality is quite a bit different. If we let ourselves be carried away by this sweet dream – probably too early – disillusion may be at the end of the hall. The idea is really good of course and the trend is there! But all the ingredients for success are not so obvious.

Of course, vendors are offering solutions that are more and more easy to implement. We are talking more and more about low-code / no-code solutions which are now legion among most software publishers. But is it enough to claim to transform our business users into application / process creators? Besides, do they really want to become “citizen developers”?

On the first question, my observation is rather mixed. Of course, no-code solutions allow our users to carry out their processes. Some editors created also advanced assistants or even action recorders to simplify the handling of their tools by users. Personally, it often makes me think of planned obsolescence … So of course, it helps, but for a limited time. Perhaps, that of realizing that what you have done cannot last or hold a certain load.

The first limits of the “Citizen Developer” model

By taking this path, we quickly realize that if this approach is not included in a more global approach to governance: it is already doomed to remain isolated or to failure. Indeed, if everyone carries out a process in their own corner and in their own way … who then becomes the guarantor of the overall coherence of this heterogeneous park of fragmented and sometimes incoherent micro-processes? In fact, aren’t we recreating a kind of application chaos (our good old spaghetti-ware)?

You see, if the promise is beautiful, the disillusionment can be just as proportional. So beware of backlash, as the onset of problems does not happen immediately. The time to realize that these micro-initiatives have gone beyond the framework of individual work. And it can go fast, very fast!

Then the “citizen development” of course. But not in an anarchic mode and especially not just anyhow. In my opinion, this type of initiative must remain in a form of control. Otherwise, how can we determine that what our users are doing is consistent and in line with the overall strategy? How can you imagine scaling up a process that was imagined by a user, by himself and for himself? The limit in terms of freedom and sharing of “citizen development” arises here.

In other words: it is difficult to imagine any sustainability in “citizen development” without adding a touch of governance and control.

A new model is needed

We must therefore imagine an “intermediary” mode in which the business user can participate and create their processes but while leaving total control to IT services. A closer look in “citizen development” there is the word citizen, which therefore implies a notion of cohabitation and sharing between users: we therefore remain consistent. I almost want to say: “everyone stays in their place and in their role”. The business user is then in no way restricted in his creativity but the execution remains under the control of IT.

We are therefore of course moving away from the potential and dangerous drift of the “citizen developer” with his total freedom of creation and execution. We are therefore part of another much more sustainable and strategic approach. Moreover, we often see that these approaches (tactical and stretagic) can be completely complementary.

Therefore, we have a user capable of creating their own tactical processes and / or participating in the creation of standardized and strategic applications / processes.

Two things immediately come to my mind:

Firstly: I think that would be a dream to believe that the same solution could meet these two totally different purposes. They are different by nature in terms of constraints, needs, security and criticality. This is an important point because organizations always search to regroup what looks like similar. However this could be a serious mistake because intelligent automation must be based on governance and with an established business strategy.

Secondly, I wonder about our famous business user: Basically … does he really want to create his applications?

From the “citizen developer” to the augmented employee

Just to come back to my comparison with the hybrid engines in our cars. Isn’t our “citizen development” the first step of our augmented business user?

In fact, with the adoption of Artificial Intelligence, our users will soon no longer need to become citizen developers. Instead of actual and stupid recorders – just able to record sequences of actions – imagine a new peace of software which is able to memorize the way our user really works in order to be able to reproduce a part of his actions. Imagine that software is able also to take into account the particularities and exceptions that have been noted during the learning time ?

When it comes to automation combined with AI, it’s obvious that with the adoption of self-supervised learning (among other things coming with the global AI trend) we will see ever more intelligent assistants coming. They’ll even be able to look over the user’s shoulder for several days so they can reproduce some of their work (and not just mimic basics stuf). We will even see that the automaton will determine on its own which part is best able to be automated and which must remain carried out by our user.

This is why I compared in the introduction our “citizen development” to an hybrid engine.

There is no pejorative meaning behind this, but it seems obvious to me that this concept – like the hypbrid motor for the automobile – is only a transition towards the real revolution which will concretely and profoundly transform our relationship to work.

In fact, and above all, we are talking about how we will interact with the information system platforms in the future.

You know this “spaghettiware” which continues to grow again and again. To become more and more complex despite all the initiatives of rationalization and standardization!

Looking towards a not-so-far future, I like to imagine that our user will no longer even be aware that there is a heterogeneous park of applications behind their digital assistants? and that future is really within close. It’s quite funny to imagine that AI and not the humans will hide the complexity of our own computer systems from us right ?

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Benoit Cayla

In more than 15 years, I have built-up a solid experience around various integration projects (data & applications). I have, indeed, worked in nine different companies and successively adopted the vision of the service provider, the customer and the software editor. This experience, which made me almost omniscient in my field naturally led me to be involved in large-scale projects around the digitalization of business processes, mainly in such sectors like insurance and finance. Really passionate about AI (Machine Learning, NLP and Deep Learning), I joined Blue Prism in 2019 as a pre-sales solution consultant, where I can combine my subject matter skills with automation to help my customers to automate complex business processes in a more efficient way. In parallel with my professional activity, I run a blog aimed at showing how to understand and analyze data as simply as possible: datacorner.fr Learning, convincing by the arguments and passing on my knowledge could be my caracteristic triptych.

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