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Governing no-code/low-code innovation

(Image credit: Image Credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels)

When enterprises needed to quickly deploy unforeseen digital solutions during the Covid-19 pandemic, many turned to low-code/no-code (LCNC) technology and enlisted the help of business employees. LCNC tech enabled these workers, also called citizen developers, to do business at a time when the world changed faster than ever.

As a result, we’re entering a new era of software development. The LCNC market is at an all-time high and the forecast looks even brighter with a 28 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) predicted into 2025 (Source: MarketsandMarkets). However, the LCNC surge represents more than another trendy tool in software development. It’s a new way of working that is already transforming the relationship between IT and business teams – for the better.

Previously the sole gatekeepers of technology solutions for enterprises, IT leaders are now balancing IT operations with accelerated business innovation. Citizen developers have a critical role in reaching the equilibrium but risk harming governance standards and security when given too much free rein. To avoid this pitfall, progressive enterprises bring IT and business objectives together by forming citizen development fusion teams.

Fusion teams for scalable citizen development

While sometimes also referred to as innovation teams or multidisciplinary teams, fusion teams essentially combine people with diverse professional backgrounds who use data and technology to achieve shared business outcomes. The team’s goals are usually related to improving business operations or increasing customer satisfaction. Fusion teams leverage the power of LCNC technology to help IT deploy solutions faster, ensure apps are value-adding for the business and increase the digital agility of the entire organization – a true win-win scenario.

Before they can become an app-building powerhouse, a fusion team will require knowledge and guidance through the software development life cycle (SDLC) phases. IT feedback is crucial to helping a fusion team understand what makes a good app and how new platforms can (or cannot) integrate into an existing system. Citizen developers should receive coaching to make decisions that lead to architecturally sound, value-adding applications.

A platform provider for LCNC citizen development must be capable of designing personal learning paths targeted to the skills and needs of each fusion team member. The business will need to support intensive employee learning and development that won’t immediately impact the bottom line. Enterprises that fully embrace this investment will reduce their IT backlog, prevent shadow IT, decrease spreadsheet and paper dependency and increase their overall resilience and agility as an organization. A mature citizen development program cultivates a culture of learning, creativity and innovation.

Making room for innovation

A first step for a new fusion team should be a use case that isn’t overly complex in terms of security, integrations, or stakeholder management. The app should have a time to market of only a few months to quickly deliver high business value. A pioneer project that fits this criteria will enable the team to make a noticeable impact from the very beginning. However, fusion teams must also have autonomy to develop creative solutions. They’ll need to experiment, test and continuously make improvements. Their final product might not look like those of the IT department and that can be an indicator that the fusion team is working exactly as they should.

This aspect can be a real sticking point for many organizations as it requires the vision for citizen development being embraced at the highest levels of the company. The end result will be a cultural shift and a new way of working. However, the transformation can happen incrementally and will become easier as citizen developers demonstrate their value.

There’s also another side to this coin: autonomous and empowered workers are happier and more productive. People like making a difference in their communities and being part of something bigger. Citizen development enables enterprises to tap into employee skills that weren’t previously fully realised and attract more innovative and solutions-oriented talent.

Governing at the speed of business

Keep in mind that stepping back to enable innovation doesn’t mean moving completely out of the picture. With the right low-code/no-code platform, the IT department can establish governance and ensure new applications meet security standards. Administrators should be able to set boundaries and permissions, add code when necessary, and provide maintenance for the applications that the fusion team builds.

Governance is not a simple process or a task to check off and forget about; it will be constantly put to the test. As such, the most important governance feature for LCNC development is a platform provider with the flexibility to adapt to specific needs of an enterprise. The provider should be a partner in expanding the role of citizen developers within the organization.

With a scalable citizen development program, a fusion team can extend their reach as they prove their value to the organization. An enterprise may even launch additional fusion teams as interest in citizen development grows within the workforce. Consequently, IT governance will need to be continuously updated and refined to align with the increasing citizen development capabilities.

In practice, enterprises generally combine the Citizen Development Competency Centre (also called a Centre of Excellence) and Community of Practice models. The Competency Centre implements a strong governance framework with the help of an experienced team of citizen developers. The Community of Practice involves more business users who want to improve their area of work but have less experience in application development. Enterprises can balance the two models according to their standards and regulations. It’s important to mobilize citizen development advocates within the organization, especially at the highest levels, who will attest to the value and celebrate success milestones.

The changes ushered in by citizen development may appear daunting. However, this way of working is more sustainable and better aligned with today’s modern business environment. In our increasingly digitized world, placing full responsibility for all tech solutions onto the IT department (many of which are facing crippling personnel shortages) just doesn’t make sense anymore.

Fusion teams boldly empower the workforce to be co-conspirators in digital transformation. But, perhaps the single greatest benefit of citizen development fusion teams is the potential to turn problem-owners into problem-solvers. When IT leadership is involved in forming and preparing a fusion team from the beginning, citizen developers will work in harmony with governance standards instead of creating discord.

Chris Obdam, Founder and CEO, Betty Blocks

Chris Obdam is CEO of Betty Blocks. Its no-code development platform allows users to build applications without writing code. The company employs 200+ people worldwide.