Citizen development – a source of both relief and enablement

Bottom-up digitalization boosts the innovative power of a company.

The shortage of skilled IT workers and the increasing digital fitness of the workforce are two of the biggest hurdles in digitalization that companies can overcome with citizen development. Find out how citizen development can help you to tap into the expertise of your company’s different departments and combine it with the experience from IT to make your company fit for the future.  

By 2025 alone, about a half a billion new applications will be created worldwide. That’s more than in the previous 40 years combined, according to the study “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide IT Industry 2020 Predictions” (October 2019). These business applications are key building blocks of a company’s digitalization strategy. The demand is growing constantly, which is putting IT in a tight spot. 

More than one in three companies in Germany already has a low (23%) to very low (14%) IT staffing level. This was the result of a recent survey by Campana & Schott. In view of the short supply of skilled workers and the workload required for day-to-day business, IT is often no longer able to cope with the development and management of business apps on its own.


Developing apps without programming skills

One way out of this impasse is to empower departments to actively participate in furthering their own digitalization process. For example, with the aid of low-code and no-code platforms, IT departments can give enthusiastic users the opportunity to develop apps on their own, without doing any programming.  

This has been the promise of citizen development for decades now. However, the available tools have so far been unable to fulfill this promise adequately, for which reason IT professionals have long tended to scoff at this approach. In the meantime, however, the platforms have matured considerably and are now a solution to be reckoned with that has already proven its worth in many use cases.  

In its study “Forecast Analysis: Low Code Development Technologies” (January 2021), Gartner predicts that, by 2025, around 70 percent of all applications will be based on a low-code platform. And in the coming year, there will be four times more active citizen developers in large companies than professional developers. 

With the help of suitable tools, IT-savvy employees from the various departments of a company can implement applications and process automations own their own. This not only reduces the IT team’s workload, but also ensures an improved employee experience while creating space for the emergence of innovations directly from the departments. This article describes various use cases to show how citizen development can be harnessed in practice to introduce productive apps in a company. 


IT must define framework conditions and provide support

In actuality, IT often views citizen development in a rather critical light: The fear of uncontrolled growth is still too great, and the experience with decentralized software development based on legacy systems, which caused hundreds of applications to spring up uncontrollably, has not yet faded from memory. 

Thanks to technological advancements, however, this fear is unfounded. The introduction of a modern, cloud-based, low-code platform opens up completely new possibilities in terms of governance. How these possibilities can be exploited is shown in this article. If properly deployed, the platform is transparent, and the solutions can be controlled. This solves many of the problems of the past.  

The decisive factor here is that governance also defines the boundaries of citizen development – preventing business users from getting the idea of setting up their own little ERP, for example. Ultimately, IT must set suitable guideposts and communicate them to citizen developers in a way they can understand in order to prevent shadow IT. Alongside efficiency and transparency, factors such as security, compliance, and sustainability must also be taken into account. This way, IT can create a suitable framework within which their colleagues can operate. 

Modern low-code tools such as the Microsoft Power Platform, which can also be integrated into Microsoft Teams, are highly intuitive to use. Nevertheless, IT must be there to address, inspire, train, and motivate future citizen developers. Suitable measures to promote adoption and change management ensure that employees are capable of developing their own solutions. Activities such as building communities and organizing training events, hackathons, or accelerators create long-lasting momentum, preventing measures from fizzling out again after a few months. Experienced partners can help design and implement the right measures. 

Empowering citizen developers gives IT enormous leverage to scale using a company’s own employees as a resource and to drive digitalization throughout the organization. However, this leverage must also be exploited. It is not enough to focus on setting technological guidelines alone.  

Ultimately, citizen development also means having faith in ambitious users and opening up new opportunities for them. For IT, this frequently entails a new way of thinking. This not only concerns the way in which software is made available within the company, but an IT department’s understanding of its own role: IT must evolve from a mere service provider for business into a designer and enabler.  

As an enabler, it provides suitable technologies allowing other departments to drive the digital transformation. It has to enable the specialist areas to use these technologies in accordance with governance principles. Then it no longer needs to do everything itself and can instead create the basis for innovations together with the other departments. 

It must also act as a partner for the business when more complex solutions are required and engage in “co-creation” with a particular department: As part of fusion development, IT then collaborates with the departments on professional solutions. Experienced software developers implement components that citizen developers can subsequently seamlessly integrate into their set of tools. 


Microsoft offers the right platform(s)

Microsoft provides optimal support for this mode of work: The Redmond-based company is the only provider to offer an end-to-end tool stack for no-code, low-code, and pro-code solutions. With Microsoft Azure and the Microsoft Power Platform, two complementary, globally tried-and-tested platforms are available for the development of digital solutions.  

The Microsoft Power Platform includes low-code development tools for citizen developers. These include the components Power Apps, Power BI, Power Pages, Power Automate, and Power Virtual Agents. Thanks especially to the tight integration of these tools with other Microsoft 365 services and with other solutions, the Power Platform is usually the first choice for adding low-code tools to the digital workplace. 

Microsoft Azure is a cloud platform that offers professional developers a suitable technological foundation with a variety of services (both IaaS and PaaS) to map even the most complex solutions in the cloud. Moreover, certain services can be closely integrated into the Power Platform – such as Azure DevOps. 

Depending on the use case, users can select the appropriate platform and combine the services as needed.  

Experienced consulting companies such as Campana & Schott offers its customers holistic support covering all issues related to the rollout of the Power Platform: from strategy, technical setup, the development of governance, and operating models to organizational anchoring within the company through the establishment of a Cloud Center of Excellence.  

In the course of the introduction of the Power Platform, it is also important to address the future citizen developers. Ambitious users from the specialist areas are trained to become citizen developers through suitable measures to generate a long-lasting momentum.   


IT cannot shoulder the digital transformation of an organization on its own. Companies reap much greater rewards when their IT departments acts as enablers and, with the aid of citizen development, work together with the business units to drive digitization throughout the company. IT sets the framework for citizen development, enables the scaling of processes, and increases the digital fitness of the company. Experienced service providers support IT departments in their role as partners of the business, helping them exploit the digital transformation to strengthen the innovative power of the company. 

The whitepaper “IT at a crossroads” shows the extent to which IT is already acting as an enabler and shaper among German companies.