How to empower citizen developers to help overcome skills shortages

Citizen developers: A woman types on a laptop.

The pandemic accelerated digital transformation across all industries, exacerbating Australia’s tech skills shortage. Research from RMIT Online identified a need for 156,000 new technology workers in Australia, with 87% of jobs now requiring digital skills. This skills gap is set to cost the economy $10 billion in lost growth by 2025 in technology, media, and communications alone.

Business leaders are realizing the urgent need to address the digital skills shortage so they can continue to innovate and grow. Enter citizen developers—non-technical employees who use low-code development platforms to build digital workflows to solve business problems. When citizen developers can build visual, modular, templated workflows to streamline disconnected processes and eliminate mundane tasks, they can unlock new efficiencies and business value.

The benefits of low-code development

Many citizen developers have never typed a line of traditional code. Today, thanks to low-code platforms, new applications can be built in days and weeks, not months and years. Because these non-technical employees are typically on the front line closest to the business problems they solve, they often spot opportunities that would otherwise be missed.

Even better, by broadening the pool of talent involved in digitizing and improving business operations, businesses can free IT teams to focus on more strategic, high-priority projects.

Instead of spending their time on relatively simple yet time-consuming tasks, or having to translate business issues into briefs for software engineers, IT teams can dedicate their energy to more complex projects that were previously out of reach. As a result, the overall innovation output of an organization can shift significantly upward.

Low-code application platforms empower any employee to rapidly build apps that solve big, organizational, everyday challenges. It’s no surprise businesses are starting to take note: By 2024, Gartner expects the majority of tech products and services will be built by professionals outside of IT.

Low-code tools can enable talented employees from across the business to innovate and digitize processes and workflows that might otherwise sit on the IT back burner.

3 ways to activate citizen developers

The right tools can help fill the IT skills gap. To get it right, companies will need to address some cultural considerations before they can successfully shift the responsibility for problem-solving from software engineers and developers to business subject matter experts:

1. Hire for low-coding

The beauty of low-code platforms is that they’re built to be simple and accessible. They streamline the development process, taking care of technical challenges so that your employees can focus their time and energy on solving business problems.

To build a pool of citizen developers, businesses need to seek out employees who have deep business knowledge and who understand the positive impact technology and digitization can have on business processes.

Diversity also matters when recruiting citizen developers. Not everybody has access to the years of specialized training or the disposition and interest to write code. Research shows that low-code platforms broaden the range of people contributing to our digital future, increasing diversity and improving outcomes. The more capability we can put into the hands of creative problem-solvers who know the business, the more impact technology will have.

2. Set them up for success

Once the business has identified its citizen developers, the main challenge is enabling and empowering them with access to the right tools, as well as training and ongoing support. By opening a development platform to a larger group of people, you run the risk of application sprawl and overdevelopment. To manage innovation effectively, the tools you use must have the right governance standards and frameworks in place.

Although new technologies draw attention through effusive proclamations from early adopters, their long-term longevity is driven by use cases developed by users on the ground. New use cases for low-code application platforms spring up every day. Encouragingly, we’re seeing a wide diversity of our customers build their own low-code apps with ServiceNow App Engine. One aerospace customer developed a low-code app that reduced manufacturing transportation incidents by 20%.

3. Create and foster community

To sustain a thriving citizen developer program, business leaders must cultivate a positive, productive community supported by the IT organization. There needs to be active engagement to provide training and support so the business experts can focus on business issues while IT teams handle access, security, and governance.

Support and collaboration are key. Most low-code platform providers host forums where members exchange tips, tricks, and solutions. And, simple tactics like hackathons guided by experts can introduce employees to low-code development in a structured setting to help them succeed.

In a world where digital transformation is a primary determinant of business success, low-code developers are the fuel for organizations to keep innovating. Low-code tools can enable talented employees from across the business to innovate and digitize processes and workflows that might otherwise sit on the IT back burner.

With the right criteria and safeguards in place, citizen developers can help organizations overcome the gap in tech skills, support digital transformation initiatives, and increase efficiency and business growth.

Learn how ServiceNow empowers citizen developers to build low-code apps fast.

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